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The Insider's Guide to the Food & Wine Classic

Whether you’re a veteran of Aspen’s favorite foodie celebration, a first-timer, or simply want to know what the fuss is all about, read on.

The Grand Tastings at the Classic often lead to delicious discoveries.

Every year, the nation’s most celebrated chefs, renowned winemakers and top food and wine pros stuff their suitcases with a larder of ingredients (everything from chef’s whites to corkscrews to signature sauces) and head upslope for the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen (June 20-22). Here’s what to expect at the Classic, and how to linger in its afterglow, all summer long.

Of course we love Jacques and Claudine, Giada and José, Daniel and Thomas, and all the other chefs who regularly bring their formidable skills and personalities to Aspen for the Classic—but we’re always glad when new talent hits town. This year, two first-time presenters join the schedule: Carla Hall, who is co-host of ABC’s The Chew, a former contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef, a cookbook author and owner of Carla Hall Petite Cookies; and Sang Yoon, a chef-proprietor of the Father’s Office gastropubs in Santa Monica and L.A., and Lukshon in Culver City, and a Bravo’s Top Chef Masters contestant. We recently had the chance to chat with both of them. Here, the dish.

Carla Hall
Please tell us a little about your seminar, “Global Vegetarian” (June 21, 10-10:45am).
I’ll be cooking from my new cookbook, Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes From Around the World. I broaden the idea of comfort food to include many cuisines, not just the Southern foods I grew up having in Nashville, Tenn. Because I love vegetables, I’m taking one of my favorites, eggplant, and showing how it’s used in dishes from Italy, India and China. I’ll be making caponata, spiced stewed eggplant with potatoes and tomatoes, and hot and sour eggplant.

You’re known for your signature “hootie hoo!” Where’d that come from?
“Hootie hoo” is a two-part call that my husband and I have been doing for years. We use it to find each other in stores or when we’re out. It’s kind of hard to find each other now. I’ve met many folks who started to use it after hearing me use it on Top Chef.

What’s your favorite ingredient?
My next favorite ingredient after love, which should be in every dish, is lemon. I love a good pucker. Lemon brightens a dish and makes it taste fresh.

What’s next for you?
I’ve said repeatedly that I don’t want to open a restaurant, but I’ve decided to partner with OTG Management on a project at Reagan National Airport in Terminal A. The restaurant will be called Page, and we’ll feature Southern favorites like chicken potpie and mac and cheese. It’s scheduled to open in 2015.

Sang Yoon
Can you share a little about your seminar, “Revamped Comfort Food Classics” (June 20, 2-2:45pm)?
Comfort food is almost always the best food because it’s attached to lasting memories. So taking something comforting and familiar, and reworking it can be daring and exciting. You’re challenging the status quo, but you’re also messing with what you already love. How do you take a classic, keep its soul, but make it new again?

What’s the “rebel chef” reference all about?
Ha! Well, I suppose that’s better than ketchup Nazi. It has to do with me choosing to go my own way at every turn in the road, like leaving fine dining to open a gastropub. If that makes me a rebel, so be it.

Your burger at Father’s Office is regularly named the best in the country. What’s the secret?
It’s simple. Make what you like and don’t compromise. I made a burger that I think has the ideal balance of flavor and texture, and I serve it—no substitutions. Not because I think it’s the only way to eat a good burger, but it’s my way. Go fire up the grill and make up your own favorite burger.

What’s next?
Later this year, [Pastry Chef] Sherry Yard and I are opening Helms Bakery in Culver City. We are bringing back a piece of L.A. history. It hasn’t been around since 1969 when the Helms trucks rolled around the city delivering freshly made bread to your door. Sherry and I ran into each other at the Beard Awards a few years ago. We pinky swore on it that night, and here we are doing it.

With his contagious laughter and ever-present grin, Michael Symon is a darling of America’s celebrity chefdom. Tags as an Iron Chef, co-host of ABC’s The Chew, and a mentor chef on The Food Network’s America’s Best Cook (not to mention chef-owner of Cleveland’s white-hot Lola and another soon-to-open restaurant there) attest to that. Part of his appeal is his ability to make cooking seem simple and, most of all, fun. He’ll do just that at his Classic seminar, “5 Ingredient Dinners in 5 Minutes” (June 20, 2-2:45PM; June 21, 2-2:45pm), based on his latest cookbook, Michael Symon’s 5 in 5. Can’t make it? Buy the book, which features recipes like mussels with white wine and garlic cooked in foil on the grill, and Sloppy Mikes, a take on the classic sloppy Joe made with Italian sausage and San Marzano tomatoes. Or check out a cooking class at one of these local hot spots:

Mawa’s Kitchen Aspen Run by seasoned cooking and catering pros Mawa McQueen and Daniel Liesener, this user-friendly cooking school at the Aspen Airport Business Center offers a full calendar of classes taught by staff instructors and guest chefs. Summer class highlights include South American Favorites, Easy Summer Dinner Party and the ever-popular Date Night Class, Around the World. Kids and teens five-day summer camps are also offered. 305F AABC, 970.544.4862

Chefs Club by FOOD & WINE
Part of the concept behind this savvy restaurant is enlisting Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs to contribute to menus and teach an occasional cooking class. This summer’s recruits are Chris Shepherd of Underbelly in Houston; Matthew Gaudet of West Bridge in Cambridge, Mass.; and Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis, Tenn. Keep an eye out for class announcements. The St. Regis Aspen Resort, 315 E. Dean St., 970.429.9581

The Little Nell
Mixing, chopping, measuring and following recipes are some of the basic cooking skills kids ages 4 and up learn in weekly classes taught by chef and cookbook author Helen DeFrance. Classes will feature a different theme each week and include recipes. 675 E. Durant Ave., 970.920.4600 

Shaken or stirred? Classic or creative? Bitter or sweet? On the rocks or up? For the last decade, Food & Wine magazine’s annual Food & Wine Cocktails (Food & Wine, $15; available at Explore Booksellers, 221 E. Main St.) has been a go-to guide on top cocktail trends, mixologists and bars. Along the way, we learned about everything from aromatic bitters and floral liqueurs to chiles and smoke in cocktail-making. Classics like the Sazerac and Old-Fashioned made room for tropical mai tais and punch. Absinthe became legal again. Gin made a comeback. Mescal and scotch showed up in mixed drinks. Ice cubes, crystal clear and hand-cut, went supersize. This year, the guide’s editors, Food & Wine’s Kate Krader and master mixologist Jim Meehan of PDT in NYC, tout the reemergence of rum in classic Cuban cocktails and daiquiris. In the spirit of “everything old is new again,” they named the classic Manhattan the drink of the decade. Raise a glass and reminisce with them at “Cocktail Favorites from the Last 10 Years” (June 20, 2-2:45pm; June 21, 2-2:45pm).

Up and down the Roaring Fork Valley, bartenders and mixologists are raising the bar on our local cocktail culture. Here, a who, what, where cheat sheet. Drink up!

1. Who: Bartenders Erin Harris and Chris Kelner
What: Harvest Manhattan (Rittenhouse rye, maple syrup and Amaro with a BFIC (“big f-ing ice cube”) and an apple-cider rim); Hemingway Daiquiri (Montanya high mountain rum, Luxardo liqueur, grapefruit and lime).
Where: Jimmy’s, Aspen

2. Who: Cocktail mechanic Joshua-Peter Smith
What: Creamy Green Violet (Golden Moon Redux Absinthe, whole milk, a touch of sugar and Golden Moon Crème de Violette liqueur); Purple Corn Spiced Sangria (Boca Loca Cachaça infused with Brazilian purple corn and blended with Torrontés white wine, citrus juices and kaffir lime honey syrup).
Where: Justice Snow’s, Aspen

3. Who: Mixologists Denis Côté and Briana Von Ohlen
What: Sweet & Spicy (Herradura Silver tequila, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, jalapeno, red bell pepper, lime juice and agave nectar); Copper Punch (Aviation American gin, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, coconut syrup, lemon, apricot nectar and spiced rim).
Where: 39 Degrees Lounge, Aspen

4. Who: Bar manager Ryan Snow
What: Aspen to Astoria (whiskey, sweet vermouth, absinthe bitters and orange bitters); Harvest Moon (bacon-infused whiskey, blackberry-lemongrass syrup, rosemary, sage and bitters).
Where: Woody Creek Distillers, Basalt

5. Who: Bartender Jack Bethel
What: Juan for All (Espolon Blanco tequila, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit juice, agave syrup and house lemongrass hibiscus bitters); Mezcal Moon (Peak Spirits’ Luna White Dog Colorado whiskey, Pierde Almas mescal, Amaro Lucano, lemon juice and Earl Grey syrup).
Where: Town, Carbondale

Keeping up-to-date on food trends (ramen burgers, hemp milk, cronuts, Sriracha) can make your head spin and your taste buds reel. The solution? Get back to the basics with comfort food. Part of the comfort factor also involves sharing meals with friends and family, or, in the case of Top Chef judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons, staff. Teaming up for their Classic seminar, “Top Chef Family Meal” (June 21, 3:45-4:30pm) they’re prepping dishes that include a whole roasted sea bass, corn relish and salsa verde—in portions large enough to share. With sharing on our mind, we ventured out to restaurants around the Roaring Fork Valley in search of dishes that bring the comfort factor home. A few of our favorite finds:

-duck confit poutine at Ajax Tavern

-bacon-studded burgers with spicy sauce at 520 Grill

-meatloaf with mashed potatoes at Jimmy’s

-a pepperoni slice, or pie, at New York Pizza

-the works nachos with vegetarian chorizo at Woody Creek Tavern

-herb-roasted chicken potpie at Heather’s Savory Pies & Tapas Bar

-burnt-end mac and cheese at Smoke Modern Barbeque

Last year, the buzz about a new seminar series titled “Classic Conversations,” featuring renowned chefs chatting with Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Dana Cowin about timely food-world topics and trends, grew loud enough to ensure another go-round and an expanded format. 

A highlight of this year’s series is a Q&A with Giada De Laurentiis, who, in addition to her cooking shows and books, is now chef-owner of a Las Vegas restaurant called, simply, Giada, in The Cromwell, a just-opened boutique hotel. Other “Classic Conversations” are “Cook It Raw,” with Alessandro Porcelli and Alex Stupak; “Secrets of Rebel Chefs,” with Sang Yoon, Richard Blais and Graham Elliot; and “Food Memories,” with Marcus Samuelsson, Jacques Pépin and Jonathan Waxman.

The latter got us wondering what fabulous food memories some of our local chefs might have stored up. Here’s what they shared:

“Eating at Paul Bocuse’s L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges near Lyon, France. I was dining with Daniel Boulud at a table with eight or so other amazing chefs. We were able to meet Paul himself, as well as his son, and just enjoy this amazing epicurean experience for hours. It was an incredible meal and a wonderful opportunity to see how a chef and team work at that level of professionalism and talent.” –Matt O’Neill, executive chef, David Burke Kitchen

“Me as a very small child, if you can imagine that, standing on a step stool helping my grandmother make homemade ravioli.” –Bryan Moscatello, executive chef, Montagna at The Little Nell

“When I was a kid, we were dove hunting in a sugarcane field back home in Louisiana. While we hunted, we would gnaw on raw stalks of sugarcane. It keeps you occupied and awake. After the hunt, we would always bring out the hibachi grill and cook a few birds while sitting on the back of the trucks. They would pour red wine over the birds and let them marinate with shredded sugarcane for as long as possible. We would then grill them with salt and pepper. The smell of the red wine and grilled fowl will forever be in my memory.” –Will Nolan, executive chef, Viceroy Snowmass

“1996. Restaurante José María in Segovia, Spain, was the location. Cochinillo asado was the dish—baby suckling pig. I was there with my brother, Frank. After riding the train from Madrid one morning, then checking out the Alcazar Castle and the Roman aqueducts, we asked around for the best place to eat suckling pig. Many recommended José María. We gave the waiter our order and waited patiently. As normal, the chef came to the table with a suckling pig and proceeded to cut it into pieces with a plate. Yes, a plate. We devoured the savory and succulent meat with crispy, crunchy skin, while sipping our tempranillo.” –Ronnie Sanchez, executive chef, Snowmass Kitchen

Popping into rollicking food and wine seminars and sipping, nibbling and socializing your way around the Grand Tasting tents may be the key ingredients of the Classic experience. But after hours, things really get cooking with parties galore held around town and even on the mountaintop. Some are invitation-only (you may have heard, for instance, of the annual over-the-top bash thrown by Wines of Spain, and Aspen Magazine will host its party at Snowmass’ Base Village this year) and take some networking to get into. On the other hand, an event like the Celebrity Chef 5k Charity Run is open to anyone who registers to race bright and early Friday morning. Tickets may also be available for Gail Simmons’ third annual Last Bite Dessert Party, on Friday ($125). Saturday night’s Wonderland extravaganza ($275) at the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain is sold out, so you’d need to score an extra ticket to get in. Then there’s the Grand Cochon on Sunday afternoon at the Hotel Jerome, the culmination of a 10-city tour, in which chefs duke it out via nose-to-tail preparation of a 200-pound heritage hog for the title of King or Queen of Porc. Says Cochon founder Brady Lowe, “This year, we’re bringing more flavor, more pop-ups and a bigger mezcal and bourbon bar, as well as a Bacon Hall of Fame.” If all else fails, popular hangouts for the chefs, winemakers and other cognoscenti in for the event include the The Living Room at The Little Nell, the bar at Jimmy’s, Shadow Mountain Lounge at The St. Regis and Belly Up (but you didn’t hear it from us).

They cook. You eat. Simple, right? No chance. It takes years of experience in the kitchen, at the front of the house or behind the bar, plus business acumen and networking skills (social or otherwise), to run a successful restaurant and offer a seamless dining experience. And that’s just for starters. Putting it all into perspective is part of the raison d’etre behind the ever-popular American Express Restaurant Trade Program, which takes place June 19-21. Celebrating its 25th year, the trade program brings together celebrity chefs and restaurateurs, renowned winemakers and other industry professionals and trendsetters from around the country for two days of networking events and panel discussions. Held at the Hotel Jerome and led by TV personality Steve Dolinsky, food reporter for ABC-7 in Chicago, the lineup is impressive. Michael Chiarello, Barbara Lynch, Danny Meyer, Jonathan Waxman and Andrew Zimmern will share their thoughts on the 25 years of the event. Dave Arnold, Steve Dolinsky and Charles Joly will discuss how to use the bar to drive business, and Sean Brock, Tom Colicchio, Steve Dolinsky, Graham Elliot and Stephanie Izard will contemplate the evolution of consumer loyalty. Trade Program pass-holders are also able to enter the Grand Tasting tent 45 minutes before the gates open to the throngs. (That alone may be well worth the $1,350 fee.)