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What We Learned at Aspen’s Food & Wine Classic

The tents are down, the chefs went back to their kitchens, and attendees of the granddaddy of all food fests may have finally slept it off. If guests at the 31st annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen weren’t dizzy from the altitude or free-flowing alcohol, then their heads were spinning from the offering of nearly 100 tastings, seminars, cookbook signings, and parties. We did our best to hit as many of the highlights as possible. Here’s what we packed up for take-away…


1. No one got tired of playing "spot the chef," as the streets were crawling with the likes of Hugh Acheson, Tom Colicchio, Jacques Pepin, Jose Andres, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, David Chang, Wylie Dufresne, Ming Tsai, Susan Feniger, Missy Robbins, Geoffrey Zakarian, Marc Murphy, Mario Batali, Eric Ripert, Tim Love, Gail Simmons, Johnny Iuzzini, John Besh, Marcus Samuelsson…to name a few. Maybe there is no such thing as too many cooks?


2. Daniel Boulud is the happiest man in the world. He just celebrated 20 years of his flagship restaurant; he helms one of the most successful eating empires in the world; and he’s getting married next week at the swank Glenmere Mansion in upstate New York. He’s even catering his own wedding, telling us, "I am going to keep it simple. A lobster entrée and a cheese course will definitely be on the menu." But the real sign of his uncontained mirth: he tore up the dance floor at the Best New Chef 25th Anniversary party until the fete’s bitter end.

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3. Our favorite San Juan chef, Jose Enrique Montes, and his parents, in from Puerto Rico, were just as surprised as we were that Food & Wine "Madonnaized" him by dropping his last name in his magazine profile (and in all signage and promotion for Best New Chefs). Happy to see, however, F&W naming its first Best New Chef from Puerto Rico in its 25-year history.

4. Can you say EataLatino? Chef Richard Sandoval (Pampano, Maya, Venga Venga) revealed that he is at work at a "Latin version of Eataly," the first of which is slated to open in Chicago. Watch out Mario Batali!


5. But it definitely pays to be a Batali. Mario’s sons, Benno and Leo, were the only under-21s allowed in the Grand Tasting tent to sign their Batali Brothers Cookbook.

6. Pittsburgh is it, so says Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern. He literally couldn’t stop talking about the city all weekend, hailing it as the next crafty, artisanal food Mecca a la Portland and Austin. Who knew?


7. Is Ali Larter (Heroes) the new Gwyneth Paltrow? The actress, who lingered at Thomas Keller’s station at the Best New Chef 25th Anniversary party, divulged she has a cookbook coming out, focusing on dinner party menus.

8. And is Portland, Oregon’s Jenn Louis the next Marcus Samuelsson? Samuelsson is no longer the only chef with fashion cred, as Louis (Lincoln, Sunshine Tavern) just collaborated on T-shirts with Flavour Gallery. Our favorites: "Gluten is NOT the Devil" and "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner."


9. Tea parties just got a whole lot cooler because of the tea cocktails served at the Ted Allen-hosted Pure Leaf Tea Science of Pairings luncheon. Think: strawberry black peppercorn peach tea and prosecco, and Asian spicy cucumber honey green tea and vodka.


10. The new school is killing it. There was a reason the Best New Chefs class of 2013 had the longest line snaking through the grand tasting tent: this crew can cook. Congratulations: Justin Cogley (Aubergine, Carmel, CA); Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese, San Francisco and New York); Jamie Malone (Sea Change, Minneapolis); Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman (Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Memphis); Jose Enrique Montes (Jose Enrique, San Juan, PR); Jason Vincent (Nightwood, Chicago); Alex Stupak (Empellon and Empellon Cocina, New York); Matthew Gaudet (West Bridge, Cambridge, MA); Chris Shepherd (Underbelly, Houston); and Michael Voltaggio (ink and ink.sack, Los Angeles).

The Food & Wine Classic sold out in record time this year. Nab your tickets early to the weekend’s events in 2014. (And perhaps start detoxing now.)

Photo credits: Courtesy of Hernan F. Rodriguez

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