Andrew Zimmern at the 2013 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
From beginning to end, this year’s Food & Wine Classic was a memorable splash of parties, star-studded chef dinners and informative seminars.
Big White Tents
The Grand Tasting Tents were even more impressive than ever. New vendors and an increasing number of exhibitors were featured in both the food and spirits categories, all of which continue to raise the bar in presentation, education, and offerings. Woody Creek Distillers made a splash both inside and outside the tent, capturing the attention of numerous spirits drinkers (even from Poland and Texas). I loved the taste of VeeV, a spirit distilled from Acai berries. Word of caution to owners: Don’t compare your spirit with SkinnyGirl! It sends real spirit enthusiasts running. Beyond the crazy associations, VeeV, shaken with fresh herbs, is a delightful smooth spirit that I will be sipping this summer.
I also loved the food offerings from Peru, Viceroy Snowmass’ new restaurant Screen Door (more on this), and everything from the plates served by Best New Chefs. Speaking of, what a great selection of young chefs this year. The fete thrown at the top of Aspen Mountain in their honor was absolute perfection, with dishes from Thomas Keller, John Besh, and Daniel Boulud showing us the promise for these young men and women.
Now, Close Your Eyes
My favorite seminar was the blind tasting seminar with Richard Betts. A dear friend of Aspen and former MS at The Little Nell, Betts hosted three panelists, including current Wine Director and Master Sommelier, Jonathan Pullis, to break down and identify six different wines. It’s always fascinating to hear what these somms know about a wine by color, nose, even the experience they gain from the back of the throat. Masterful. And yes, our Jonathan Pullis nailed it. A mind-blowing, fun experience. If you want to understand wine like the experts do, look for Richard Betts’ new book (on shelves this fall) The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert: Take a Whiff of That. He includes his creative, handy wheel of world wines which helps commoners like me identify and pinpoint locations for every wine you sip.
Bring on the Back Fat
The weekend closed on Sunday afternoon with judging Grand Cochon. I’ve attended this event for several years, but this was the first time I had the pleasure of being able to enjoy every offering from the 10 regional winners, as they competed for the Crown and title King or Queen of Porc. The winner for me, and for the other judges—Chekf Michael Voltaggio, last year’s champ and Chef Jason Vincent, Chefs Andrew Zimmern and Claudine Pepin—was Chef Adam Sobel from RN47 in San Francisco. Using a Berkshire hog from Jubilee Family farm, Sobel created a trio of pork dishes that told a story from beginning (Chiang Mai Pork “Boners”) to the end (“The Return of Fat Elvis”). Think pork belly, peanut butter, and bananas. The second offering of Fat Back “Mapo Tofu” clenched the prize. Pork fat tofu, you ask? Why yes!
“The dish was a play on the classic Chinese dish ‘Mapo Tofu,’”says Sobel. “I felt the need to incorporate fat into my menu as a highlighted item and played with the idea to make a ‘fat custard,’ but it morphed into a ‘tofu’ in texture. I used rendered pork fat, scented with five-spice, roasted garlic, pork stock, low and high Acyll Gellan. We set the tofu in little clay cups and topped it with the spicy schzeuan braise made of the pigs head, trotters and ground shoulder.” Indulgence, indeed. Someone order me a case of green juice, stat!
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GEORGE ROSE/GETTYIMAGES.COM