As the 33rd Aspen Food & Wine Classic commenced this past June, hundreds of people flocked to the small, chic town to eat, drink and meet some of the nation’s top chefs. But while festivalgoers nibbled on goods in the Grand Tasting Tent, sipped vino during one of the many wine seminars or watched cooking demonstrations, the chefs and restaurateurs took a break and explored a little bit of what the community had to offer. We caught up with six of them as they made their rounds to find out just what they like about Aspen.
Samuelsson was gracious enough to invite us over as he had his early morning coffee at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star St. Regis Aspen Resort with his wife Maya Haile. “I come here for the food and to meet my chef friends from around the country,” said Samuelsson, the chef and owner of Red Rooster Harlem, Ginny’s Supper Club, Streetbird Rotisserie and other New York institutions. “It’s also a great [place to] look at food from around the country.” As for what he likes to do in Aspen while hanging out with his buddies, the eclectic bar in the historic Four-Star Hotel Jerome is a must. He and his wife also like to pick up classic New York-style sandwiches at Grateful Deli, a spot that is the only authentic sandwich shop in the area, according to Samuelsson. Yet, despite all the delicious things to be had in Aspen, one of the chef’s favorite aspects of the festival is its complete access to nature.
After filling up on a lamb feast for a luncheon created by Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern, Gabrielle Hamilton and others, Oringer was full and ready to talk about what makes Aspen so amazing. “Sitting outside of [Ajax Tavern] and drinking rosé,” the chef and co-owner of Toro Boston and Toro New York said. “I love doing that and killing time. Jimmy’s late night is always great, too.” This year Oringer and his wife stayed at the St. Regis Aspen Resort, another place the chef said he is impressed by. Oringer added that he also enjoys getting sushi at Nobu’s Matsuhisa Aspen.
After an informative American Express Trade Program on fast-casual dining, Meyer, the famed restaurateur who is responsible for Shake Shack’s worldwide takeover as well such prestigious New York restaurants like Maialino, Four-Star Gramercy Tavern and Four-Star The Modern, took a brief moment to share his Aspen highlights. “If I had one more day here, I would go to the Woody Creek Tavern, Jimmy’s and Main Street Bakery,” he said. “I do love it here.” Woody Creek Tavern is only a 15-minute drive from Aspen proper, and the laid-back eatery is known for its barbecue pork, a dish Meyer knows well thanks to his investment in Blue Smoke in Manhattan. It’s no surprise Meyer chose Jimmy’s either; the quaint venue has a great bar program that features artisan ice, their own barrel of Four Roses bourbon made with non-GMO corn and a focus on local spirits and beer.
Nestled in the charming T-Lazy-7 Ranch we found this Chicago chef whipping up a breakfast feast with Chobani Greek yogurt. As she did amazing things with honey powder, blueberries, yogurt and griddled succulent salmon omelets, she told us her favorite things about the mountain town. “I already want to move to Aspen,” the Girl & the Goat owner said. “I love the Hotel Jerome lobby so much and, actually, my husband and I tried to make our front room look like it.” Aside from design aspirations, Izard enjoys getting cappuccinos at ink! Coffee and people-watching at Ajax Tavern in Five-Star The Little Nell. This year she stayed at The Little Nell, adding that, “I feel so lucky. It’s beautiful and everyone is so nice.” This was the sixth time that the Top Chef winner attended the festival. Each previous year she told herself she would do the Food & Wine 5K Charity Run. This year, she actually laced up the sneakers and ran. Afterwards, she said she would gladly do it again in 2016.
Coming all the way from New Orleans’ famous Commander’s Palace, McPhail was busy grilling up Cajun-style shrimp, crawfish tacos and decedent duck dishes for a party hosted by his restaurant. “It’s so enjoyable here and I love doing this,” the chef said. “It all about staying up late, maybe making a bad decision, then getting a hike in in the morning and I am set for the day.” This year McPhail headed to Cache Cache and described the bistro as “a gorgeous outdoor eatery.” He also informed us that he liked visiting Caribou Club, a prestigious venue that opened in 1989 as Aspen’s first private members-only club.
Though Blais, of Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars fame, was all over the place festival weekend, we caught up with him in a hallway at The Little Nell. Unlike other food-focused attendees, the Atlanta-based toque’s initial answer to the question on what he likes to do around Aspen was all about nature and exercise. “I like to go for a run down the Rio Grand Trail and listen to the river flow,” he said. As for dining and drinking, Blais said you could find him at two places: Matsuhisa Aspen and The White House Tavern, which offers fresh salads, sandwiches, classic cocktails and a respectable wine list.