Food Writer's Diary

Reflections on Aspen

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This is part of NRN's special coverage of the 2012 Food & Wine Classic held in Aspen, Colo., June 15-17. Follow all of our coverage at NRN's 'Aspen Food & Wine Classic' section.

I think I’ve turned a corner with the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, or just “Aspen,” as it’s called in the chefly end of the foodservice world.

I don’t remember what year I first went to this granddaddy of modern food festivals. But it was before Top Chef, back when the high-altitude weekend had the slightly stodgier name of The Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen. At Aspen, instead of in, showing what a difference a preposition can make.

Back then the big celebrity chefs were Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Rocco DiSpirito (remember him?) and of course Emeril Lagasse.

But it wasn’t all about rubbing elbows with those guys. It was about trying new foods, wines and spirits (beer not so much), meeting new people in the industry, seeing old friends, of course, and learning about what was new and exciting.

I haven’t gone to Aspen every year since then, so I can’t pinpoint exactly when it all changed, but at some point the TV cooks seemed to become more important than the food. The consumers, who spent more than $1,000 for tickets to the event, were no longer fellow lovers of all things gastronomic — a much smaller club than the horde of “foodies” we have now — but celebrity chef groupies who said ridiculous things like “this wine is divine, if you like red wine.”

And so when I was in Aspen I would become a jaded old grump.

“Isn’t this amazing? We’re in Aspen! It’s so amazing!” people would say.

Or that’s what I heard, at least. And I’d think: Well, we’re in a pretentious resort that might be one of Colorado’s 10 prettiest mountain towns, although I’m not so sure about that, because Colorado has a lot of pretty mountain towns.

I was kind of insufferable. Last year Claudine Pépin told me to stop being such a grouch.

But, you know what? I have to admit that there’s something cool about the fact that Claudine Pépin knows me well enough to address me by name and tell me not to be a grouch.

An this year I was delighted when both Marcus Samuelsson and Johnny Iuzzini greeted me during a reception for restaurant industry folks thrown by American Express at Matsuhisa. I was glad to talk to Michel Nischan about his strategies for better food programs, and catch up with Anita Lo.

Also, the sushi was good.

It doesn’t suck to go to Portuguese wine tastings where Sean Brock is helping out George Mendes by slicing jamón Iberico de bellota, or to take a sip of Sean’s Bloody Mary the morning after a late-night tequila party.

Should the Elvis Costello concert thrown to celebrate the Classic’s 30th anniversary really have been better because I was there with all those people, as well as New York Times food writer Melissa Clark, who goaded me out of my seat to head for the stage? Of course not.

But what can I say? It was better.

When Bario Batali and Tim Love were scooping lunch onto my plate during a restaurant trade “Power Lunch,” which I then sat down and ate with Myriad Restaurant Group chief Drew Nieporent, who scouted out a table in the shade for us, I thought to myself, “Isn’t this amazing? It’s so amazing.”

Okay, so I’m a celebrity chef groupie, too.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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What's Food Writer's Diary?

Food Writer's Diary is a blog written by Bret Thorn, senior food editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, which covers culinary trends and his adventures.

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Bret Thorn

Bret Thorn is responsible for reporting on culinary trends in foodservice for Nation's Restaurant News. He joined NRN in 1999, after spending about five years as a journalist in Thailand, where...
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