ASPEN, CO – Every year at this time, at least for the past decade, I head to the mountains of Aspen, to rub shoulders with the food world’s big guns. Believe me, I’m not getting here in a private jet, guzzling osetra for breakfast. I’m fully immersed in one of my side jobs – moderator – for the annual American Express Trade Program. This year, due in part to the fact that the Food & Wine Classic at Aspen (#fwclassic) is celebrating its 30th anniversary, the lineup is especially strong.
For the first time since the Recession, this event has been sold out long before the jets started arriving at Pitkin Airport. Some 5,000 food and wine lovers have paid more than $1,000 per ticket to be here (hello, 1%) and to see, what Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Dana Cowin has called “the pages of the magazine come to life.” In fact, just last night, at the official welcome reception, they kicked off a new restaurant tucked within the tony St. Regis Hotel, which will feature menus curated and designed by current and former “Best New Chefs” from the magazine. Talk about eating your words.
The “Best New Chef” aspect is one angle here. Every year, in April, the magazine announces its crop of new talent, then fétes them all weekend long, with tastings and appearances. The July issue of the magazine is released here, with all of their smiling faces on the cover. Chicago typically has one of those slots, and this year, Ria’s Danny Grant has taken the title for his work at the fine-dining restaurant inside the Waldorf (formerly the Elysian) Hotel. But instead of holding the usual walk-around tasting on Saturday night with each of the chefs, this year, they’re going to have a little Elvis Costello concert, with food created and served by José Andrés, Michel Nischan and Mario Batali.
During the day here, you can attend one of a number of informative events, such as pairing wines with cheese, or barbecue, or just discovering the nuance of wines from say, New Zealand. They also set up an enormous white tent in the middle of town, where they hold two major Grand Tastings each day (coupled with tons of wineries pouring their latest vintage). But the other side of the Classic occurs at the Hotel Jerome, where I spend most of my time.
The AmEx Trade Panel organizes four unique panel discussions, each with four panelists; I moderate each one. You’ll be able to follow the action on Twitter this year, (@Briefing, #amextrade) and they’ll be releasing selected video clips from the Trade Program in a few days. It’s a great chance to listen to the top talent in the industry right now, and ask questions up close. Among the 16 panelists I’ll be speaking with over the next 48 hours include Rick Bayless, José Andrés, Grant Achatz, Danny Meyer and John Besh.
Of course, there’s also a fair amount of eating and drinking here this weekend, and so I’ll try to have a brief recap for you on Monday. Until then, see you on Twitter…