Snapshots from :: Aspen Food & Wine Classic

By Camille Styles
Aspen Food & Wine Classic 2013 | Camille Styles

It’s taken me a full week to put together my recap from Aspen Food & Wine Classic, mainly because I came back with so many amazing memories, photos and notes, I needed that much time to sort through them and narrow it all down to one post! Many thanks to Cracker Barrel Cheese for sponsoring my trip and helping make it such an unforgettable few days. Click through for all the details: the parties, the food, and my favorite cooking tips & wisdom picked up from such culinary legends as Jacques Pépin, Mario Batali and Eric Ripert… you won’t want to miss it!

The Aspen Food & Wine Classic is in its 31st year… and it was my second year to attend. It’s pretty much my idea of heaven, set in breathtakingly beautiful Aspen: cooking demos from some of my culinary idols, wine seminars (and tastings!), food-centric parties and of course, the Grand Tasting Pavilion…

The night we arrived, we dropped our bags at the hotel and headed straight to a Spanish-style welcome barbecue hosted by Chef José Andrés. We hopped the shuttle and landed at one of the most incredible houses in which I’ve ever set foot, perched high in the mountains with floor-to-ceiling windows to fully soak in the views.

Outside, Chef Andrés’ team was cooking up all kinds of meats and sausages, which they stacked on perfectly-crusty bread and slathered with chimichurri and aiolis before all the guests wolfed them down. If I had to choose one dish to bring back home with me, this would be it… and I’m thinking that hosting an authentic Spanish-style barbecue is on my agenda for this summer just so I have an excuse to experiment!

The next day kicked off the official lineup. It was an amazing experience to watch some of the best chefs in the world in action…and tasting their food was an even bigger treat.

And the Grand Tasting Pavilion! Picture it: multiple tents with rows and rows of wineries, luxury brands and award-winning food experts displaying their best flavors…and all there for the tasting. Oysters and champagne at 11am? No problem! (it is 5 o’clock somewhere, after all!)

Since the Classic is in late spring, the exhibitors had the season’s most beautiful produce on display. It was so inspiring to see the craftsmanship of the many devoted food and beverage artisans there.

Cheese, beautiful cheese! I popped into this Wine and Cheese Pairings panel, and boy am I glad I did. The tasting was led by Laura Werlin, one of the country’s foremost cheese experts. She, along with Food & Wine’s senior wine editor Megan Krigbaum, led us through an incredibly informative and delicious lesson in pairings. I may have just eaten a decadent lunch, but that certainly didn’t stop me from sampling every single cheese on the plate. The zinfandel and “Bay Blue” pairing was my favorite – the full, rich flavor of the cheese was an amazing complement to the sweet wine. I’m definitely saving that one as a go-to dessert course for dinner parties.

Jacques Pépin! I’ve been enamored with Jacques ever since I first read about his friendship with Julia Child, and then fell in love with his classic recipes and straightforward approach to cooking really great food. Chef Pépin’s demo did not disappoint: boning a chicken, knife skills, chopping an onion, mincing garlic, making a stock and quick-curing a salmon were all on the agenda. Oh, and deseeding a pomegranate (something I’ve always avoided like the plague!) Just open it up and hold over a bowl of water, then hit the exterior with a few hard smacks and watch all the seeds fall out. The white pith floats to the top, leaving the perfect ruby seeds at the bottom. Genius!

His confident cooking style made me want to sharpen my knives and get cooking…and his passion for life made me want to pop open a bottle of bubbly to sip while doing it.

Cayman Island cookout lunch, anyone? Rum cocktails were definitely on the menu, as was the delicious food prepared by…

Chef Eric Ripert! It was so fun meeting this legend in person, and he was every bit as charming and kind as I expected him to be from those episodes of Top Chef. The menu he served was of the most premium quality, but incorporated straightforward and accessible island-inspired flavors.

Saturday morning, Phoebe and I took a little break from the madness and went to check out the Aspen farmers market. I was impressed with the size of the market since Aspen’s pretty small, and it was fun people watching; we definitely weren’t the only out-of-towners who took time out to play like a local.

We also took a gondola ride up Aspen Mountain to check out the awe-inspiring views and soak up the scene on the sundeck. Phoebe loved it, and definitely didn’t show any signs of a fear of heights.

Other highlights? Tim Love’s demo on rubs and marinades was so informative and, even better, kept the audience rolling in laughter at 10am on the second day of the Classic (an amazing feat in itself!)

Mario Batali cooked a Sicilian Summer Supper that I can’t wait to recreate at home… and I loved his philosophy on “pushing proteins to the side of the plate so the vegetables and healthy grains can take center stage.”

Plus more parties, amazing dinners (The Wild Fig is a can’t miss) and too many mouthwatering cocktails to name. I picked up tons of new knowledge on the rich heritage of cheese culture to apply to my continued partnership with Cracker Barrel and its award-winning cheese and craftsmanship. As Chef Batali said:

Eat better, eat happier, eat seasonally. Cheers to that!

*photos by, except 2, 3, 4 & 8 which are by Galdones Photography/FOOD & WINE.. As noted, I’ve been selected by Kraft Foods to be an ambassador for Cracker Barrel cheese. While I have been compensated for my time, all opinions and tales from Aspen are my own.