Perhaps we should use the age-old "what I did on my summer vacation" construct, with the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen standing in for "summer vacation." Or, to borrow a phrase from Commis chef James Syhabout, who was being honored as one of Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Chefs, "It's like spring break for rich, old people." Indeed. By 5:45 p.m. on the first night, women in staggeringly high heels clutched to their mates and to the banisters of each stairway, the effects of French 75s and altitude (Aspen is at about 10,000 feet above sea level) conspiring to make them a bit tipsy.
To kick-off the event, Spanish chef Jose Andres hosted a barbecue for a select group in the backyard of his rented home. Suckling pigs turned lazily on spits, albariño flowed freely and everywhere you turned there was a food celeb—Jacques Pépin, Morimoto, David Chang, Drew Nieporent, Rick Bayless, you name it—along with a full compliment of Top Chef personalities. Outside, a grill was crowded with a panoply of pork—two kinds of chorizo, blood pudding and more, and as the crowds thronged forward our very own Chris Cosentino, a good friend of Andres, stepped in to help. It was only thanks to him that I emerged from they fray with a plate of tasty morsels. It does help to know people, even in Aspen, where everyone knows someone.
After gathering at the food table, the crowds then moved to the big-screen inside the house to watch game 7 of the NBA finals, where Andres led the assembled in rowdy cheers for the Lakers. Rumor swirled about afterparties, taco trucks and gin cocktails, but I departed before things got too crazy.
The most important thing to know about this festival is that you must pace yourself. When faced with a dizzying array of options, the temptation to dive-in head first is an understandable one. But should you want to go the distance, overindulging early is just an amateur's mistake. That said, my first activity on Saturday morning was a 10 a.m. tasting of Dom Perignon (Because I am no fool. If someone wants to serve me 1988 Dom Perignon at 10 a.m., the answer is always yes.). I followed the tasting with a seven-course crawfish lunch prepared by John Besh, the New Orleans chef who is about to debut his new cooking show, "Inedible to Incredible." Like I said, pacing myself.
As the weekend wore on, I had the opportunity to watch demos (Rick Bayless and Mario Batali), sit through inspiring workshops (Fat is Phat!, hosted by Jennifer McLagan, the author of the cookbook Fat, together with the folks from Blackberry Farm in Tennessee—a place that is now haunting my dreams, I want to visit so badly) and ruminate on the nuances of American Whisky. Despite the urgings of colleagues, I opted out of the legendary 212 house party (my sources tell me Tom Colicchio and Joe Bastianich were belting out songs on the patio) and even skipped the Pátron party (my other sources tell me that it "wasn't nearly as wild as promised.") Judging by the savage hangovers I witnessed on Sunday morning before driving over jaw-droppingly gorgeous Independence Pass into Denver, I made the right choice.