Memories remain of 30th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
ASPEN – The 30th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is history, although perhaps not without a hangover or two to prolong the sweet memory until next year.
I’m not sure how many people have been at all 30 of the Classics but perennial favorite Jacques Pepin said he’s been to 27 or 28 which surely puts him among the leaders. Pepin, who said he teamed with the unforgettable Julia Child 10 or 12 times until Julia found Aspen’s 7,800-foot elevation a bit much, paired this year with long-time friend and fellow chef Jean-Claude Szurdak to win Sunday’s Classic Cook-off.
The Pepin-Szurdak team outwitted the team of chefs Bobbie Flay and Michael Symon to win the popular votes from the exuberant standing-room crowd at Aspen’s St. Regis Hotel. One of the event’s many highlights included Symon doing one of those “why don’t these guys make mistakes?” mistakes when a pan flared and the overhead mirror melted. He took the mishap in impeccable stride, as did Pepin after opening the oven early on his three omelettes, a move expressly warned against in most cookbooks. The audience gasped at this culinary faux-pas but Pepin only shrugged and the omelettes, of course, came out perfect.
Pepin called on his experience with Child when one of the audience asked him about when to use butter. For a moment Pepin channeled his old friend and then responded, “I called in to Julia. You use butter all the time.”
And of course we’ll remember Mark Oldman, not only for his enthusiastic and sometimes irreverent sharing of wine knowledge but also for his attire, this year with an eye on 1982, reflecting the Food & Wine Classic’s first year in Aspen. The irrepressible Oldman (right) spent the weekend garbed in red leather pants (acquired via a used clothing outlet online), black T-shirt and red headband ala Mike Reno, lead singer of the ’80s band Loverboy, which had the hit “Working for the Weekend” the year the Classic began.
Oldman also likes to bring surprise wines to Aspen and this year, in honor of the 30th, he shared two wines from 1982, a Jordan Cabernet and Chateau La Croix Bordeaux, both from his personal cellar.
Missing among the 300 or so purveyors under the Grand Tasting tent was a strong showing from Italy, a country that normally has a section to itself. This year, though, you had to wander a bit to find the Italian presence scattered among the other countries.
“You know, with the politics and the economy, things are little tight and I think many of them stayed home,” said Lilly Lo Cascio of Tasca d’Almerita. “Some of them are here, you have to look for them.”
Parts of the American economy seem on the road to recovery. This was the first year since 2008 the Classic sold out (it’s been capped at 5,000 attendees since 1997) in advance and the popular single-day tickets of previous years were not available.
In an interview with the Aspen Business Journal, Food & Wine magazine publisher Christina Grdovic said consumers are still watching their money but are starting too spend a little more.
“Everybody was more frugal and everyone had a strict budget the last few years,” Grdovic said. “Now, people are still careful and maybe more efficient, but things are feeling grander. One of the things that seems to be happening is parties: people are having more and bigger parties again.”
She went on to say that in a recession, people make decisions on what to cut and keep. “So they’ll cut luxury items, but they want to keep some vacation time, time with family and friends,” Grdovic said. “And that’s what Food & Wine is all about, and that works to our benefit.”
And the benefit goes both ways. The S’Wine in the Mine party sponsored by the Infinite Money Theorem winery raised $1,500 for the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, which is helping fight the High Park wildfire near Fort Colllins.