As Aspen prepares to welcome the 31st annual Food & Wine Classic from June 14 to 16, festival-goers can anticipate a weekend full of fine wines, fabulous food and stunning scenery. Regardless of whether you were among the lucky few who snagged one of the weekend passes that sold out back in March or are simply looking to attend an event or two, this year’s Classic will have no shortage of ways for you to eat (The Best New Chefs Party) and drink (The Reserve Tastings’ rare vino) your heart out. If you’re hungry for more details, read on to see what the Colorado resort town has cooked up this year.
What to Know
Whether you’re a self-proclaimed foodie or part of the industry, this is the crème-de-la-crème of culinary festivals; and if you’ve managed to score a ticket, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Tickets went on sale last December and by the end of March, all of the passes were snagged. The good news is that this year, due to the quick sellout, the Food & Wine Classic has added several events for which tickets can be purchased separate from the weekend passes (read: technically, tickets are still available); but more on that in a bit.
This weekend of gastronomy greatness takes over Aspen with events spread throughout town, ranging from the Grand Tasting Pavilion at Wagner Park to hotels such as Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Little Nell and Four-Star The St. Regis Aspen Resort. Top-tier chefs, including Forbes Travel Guide Tastemakers Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert and Ming Tsai, join well-known wine experts, such as Andrea Robinson, Josh Wesson and Tastemaker John Ragan, for a weekend of cooking demonstrations, wine seminars and panel discussions.
What to Do
As we mentioned, there are several events you can still attend even if you didn’t score a weekend pass. Whether you’re active or prefer to treat yourself with an unbelievable glass of wine, you can indulge in one of the à la carte events.
The Classic kicks off with the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen Celebrity Chef 5K Charity Run. You’ll run alongside celebrity chefs (last year it was hosted by Bobby Flay, who ran with fellow chef and Tastemaker Marcus Samuelsson) through the mountain town. Aside from burning a few extra calories to deserve the undeniably decadent food and wine you’ll be consuming all weekend, you’ll also be running for a good cause: The race raises money for Wholesome Wave Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that supports small and midsize farms, and helps provide fresh, locally grown produce to underserved communities. June 14, 7 a.m., Rio Grande Park, $30.90.
If you’re a fan of up-and-coming chefs, don’t miss the 25th Anniversary Food & Wine Best New Chefs Party. Held at the Sundeck at the top of Aspen Mountain, the food-driven event is chock-full of great eats, top-notch wines and amazing views. Former Best New Chefs—think John Besh of August in New Orleans and David Chang of Momofuku fame—will prepare the night’s cuisine, which will be accompanied by creative cocktails and stellar wines. Don’t worry about hiking up the mountain; the Silver Queen Gondola will be your ride for the night. June 15, 8 p.m., Sundeck, $250.
Wine aficionados, look no further than the Reserve Tastings, which are available for both pass holders and non-pass holders. There are six to choose from—three Friday and three Saturday—each with a different theme. The Reserve Tastings will feature rare wines and will be hosted by expert winemakers and sommeliers. If you’re a fan of reds, sign up for Two Legendary Rioja Vintages: 1994 & 1995, hosted by Food & Wine’s wine editor Ray Isle. Bubbly buffs should attend Great Champagnes from a Great Year: The 2002 Tête de Cuvees, hosted by wine critic Antonio Galloni. Two Rioja Vintages: 1994 & 1995: June 14, 2 p.m., The Little Nell, $175; Great Champagnes from a Great Year: The 2002 Tête de Cuvees: June 15, 10 a.m., The Little Nell, $225.
Classes and Seminars to Attend
While you don’t necessarily need to have snagged a pass to get in on some of the fun, those of you who landed passes and access to the full schedule certainly reap the benefits. You’ve got more than 80 events to select from, ranging from cooking demos to wine tastings, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding several things that pique your culinary interests. There are three blocks of seminars on Friday and Saturday, and one on Sunday, so be sure to choose wisely because many of the more popular classes and cooking demos are already full.
Whether you’re in the food business or not, it’s always intriguing to hear the different sides of today’s hot culinary issues. In the Classic Conversations series, Food & Wine’s editor-in-chief Dana Cowin and a panel of top chefs discuss the future of restaurants. One session is already full, but we highly recommend attending Classic Conversations: The Chef & The Rancher, which is still open and includes input from chefs Mario Batali and Chris Cosentino, as well as sustainable rancher and eco-entrepreneur Anya Fernald. This dynamic quartet will look at the shifting relationship between chefs and farmers, and how today’s changes will impact menus in the future. June 14, 10 a.m., Theatre Aspen.
Grill masters should head straight to the Cooking Tent on Friday as Chris Cosentino of San Francisco’s Incanto makes his Classic debut hosting DIY Sausage. Forget buying sausage at the store when you aren’t entirely sure what’s in it—Cosentino will teach you how to make your own sausage tailored to your taste and prepare three dishes that feature homemade sausage. June 14, 2 p.m., Cooking Tent.
If you’re a fan of the oyster, but don’t quite know how to incorporate other than serving it on the half shell, sign up for Oysters 10 Ways. Tastemaker and chef extraordinaire José Andrés hosts this interesting seminar, which is offered twice on Saturday. He’ll whip up his “mostly cooked” oyster dishes, proving that these bivalves can be a classic American food. June 15, 2 p.m., 3:45 p.m., The St. Regis Aspen Resort.
Coming hot off his book release, Tastemaker Richard Blais will divulge a bit of his culinary knowledge in his seminar, Secret Ingredients. The Atlanta-based chef will take average ingredients found in just about everyone’s kitchen and turn them into outstanding dishes. Blais, as he’s known to do, will use the ingredients in new and innovative ways. June 15, 3:45 p.m., The St Regis Aspen Resort.
Where to Stay
Though it’s a rather small resort town, Aspen has its fair share of luxury hotels. Of course, considering the Food & Wine Classic has been sold out since the end of March, rooms are a bit hard to come by at this point. Fortunately, The St. Regis Aspen Resort has a few rooms still available. The Four-Star hotel got a complete facelift in 2011, updating its guest rooms, public spaces and even adding a library. As the site of several events throughout the weekend (including a few of the big cooking seminars), The St. Regis Aspen has a four-night minimum—but we have a feeling that won’t be a problem.
If you haven’t gotten enough food and wine from the festival, head down to the hotel’s Chefs Club by FOOD & WINE, which will rotate its staff of “Best New Chefs” denoted by the magazine each year when the Classic kicks off. This year’s chefs include Jason Franey of Canlis in Seattle, Viet Pham of Forage in Salt Lake City, Bryant Ng of The Spice Table in Los Angeles and Missy Robbins of A Voce in New York City.
Another great spot to check in is the historic Hotel Jerome. It’s a few blocks away from the base of the mountain, but it plays host to several events (though mainly for members of the trade). The rooms were recently upgraded; and since we’re getting down to the wire, only suites are available—there are worse things. Rooms are decked out with high-tech amenities (think iPads and Nespresso machines) and elegant mountain-esque décor.
Photos Courtesy of American Express Publishing, Allan Zepeda and Galdones Photography