Culinary Camp Out: An Insider’s Look at the FOOD & WINE Classic
A few weeks ago, several members of the Reserve team headed to the Colorado mountains for the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen. The annual event, which took place this year from June 19 to 21, features some of the biggest names in the culinary world — Danny Meyer, David Chang, Eric Ripert, Marcus Samuelsson, Christina Tosi, Tyler Florence and Rick Bayless to name just a few. I recently sat down with David Levin, Head of Special Projects at Reserve, who gave me the scoop on what actually goes on during the event.
1. What is the FOOD & WINE Classic?
The FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen is a culinary event that happens every year, bringing together the best in restaurants, food and wine to celebrate and learn from one another. It’s often called the Super Bowl of food events because so many industry members and festival guests — as many as 10,000 people — descend on Aspen for the weekend. Aspen is pretty tough to get to, so the event feels like a weekend getaway to the mountains — a little bit like culinary camp for grownups.
2. What does everybody do each day?
It’s a 3-day event, and each morning industry meetings start around 9am. There are dozens of trade events — from networking events to seminars on growing a restaurant group and how to raise money for a first restaurant in a panel entitled, “ROI” (a.k.a. Restaurateurs On Investments), to panels on the growth of “fine casual” restaurants and the future of food and eating out. Tastings are happening constantly — tents of wine and food from the best new chefs, restaurants and wineries, oysters getting shucked. People just pick up a glass, walk around and sample and drink.
The trade picnic, where three chefs cook for their peers inside a big tent in a remote park setting, is always special. It’s like a “family meal” with chefs cooking for their peers. This year, Andrew Zimmern, Gabrielle Hamilton and Ashley Christenson cooked.
There was a cheddar cheese grit biscuit with green sausage gravy that spoke to my Southern heritage. And Ashley’s blueberry rhubarb pie was wonderful.
3. Is there a charitable component involved?
There is a 5k run that benefits FOOD & WINE Grow for Good and Wholesome Wave, a national initiative dedicated to supporting local farms and encouraging local agriculture. All proceeds from the race go to Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit that helps lower income families gain access to healthy food through advocacy and its hallmark program of doubling the value of food stamps at farmers’ markets.
4. Did you learn anything about the business issues that restaurateurs are facing these days?
There was a lot of talk about how to grow restaurant groups, several business discussions on how to say “yes” and when to say “no,” how to strike a good deal with investors — not just from a financial standpoint but from a vision standpoint. Also, food sourcing relative to globalization — like how to get balsamic vinegar to your Italian restaurant in Turkey. One recurring theme that popped up centered around restaurants being supportive of each other, growing and hiring from within, building teams from the inside in order to keep good, happy people.
5. Any favorite highlights or memorable moments?
Jacques Pepin’s 80th birthday party. The folks from Little Nell cooked up some of his more popular items . There we all were, in a lodge at the top of a mountain — people took gondola rides to get there with hot cocoa on the way down. The FOOD & WINE-sponsored party at the Belly Up venue was great, too. The Spazmatics (an 80s cover band) played. Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook [of Animal and Son of a Gun restaurants in LA] cooked up some great food — smoked chicken legs, sliders served on marbled rye called Little Boners and pimento cheese dip with homemade chips.
Thanks for the inside look, David. I’m so glad the Reserve team could represent at this amazing event. Oh, and please feel free to put me in your suitcase next year!