© Emily Kaiser
After braving a mild snowstorm on our drive up from Denver, my colleague Kristin Donnelly and I arrived in Aspen last night for this weekend's Food & Wine Classic. I'm pleased to report that things are off to a burger-ific start, thanks to our dinner at the Ajax Tavern at the Little Nell. (If only F&W headquarters were in Aspen year-round...) Ajax’s version of the In-N-Out double-double burger was impressively tasty, as were the juicy and ridiculously immense Alaskan king crab legs. The truffle fries almost went perfectly with the 2006 Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet, though they probably would have been even better with the rich chocolate milkshakes that the kind Ajax servers brought at the end of the night. We slurped them down before dashing back outside. The ominous storm clouds made us consider going back inside to eat a few more burgers, but we decided to call it an early night.
Yesterday, I got a preview of the F&W Classic in Aspen: meeting legendary Italian winemaker Roberto Conterno in NYC. Now I'm here in Aspen and it's even more exciting. This is the 27th anniversary of the festival, which is a mix of genius chef demos, wine seminars and a whole lot of parties. Every minute there’s something amazing going on; I’ve made a huge effort to pick three of my most anticipated events.
Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton preparing dishes from Osteria Mozza: Batali’s seminars are invariably some of Aspen’s best and most entertaining; this year, the amazing Silverton will help him prepare dishes from their L.A. restaurant, including spaghetti with garlic and guanciale.
Sommelier Challenge: The great Lettie Teague, F&W wine columnist, pits four of the country’s elite sommeliers (including Bobby Stuckey of Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine and Jordan Salcito of NYC’s Gilt) against each other to see who is best at selling wines. It’s not unlike watching Britain’s Got Talent, minus the singing and dancing.
Classic Quickfire: On Sunday morning @ 10.30 (not too early, thank goodness—Saturday night is party night in Aspen), Top Chef season 4 winner Stephanie Izard will face off against Top Chef season 5 winner Hosea Rosenberg. They’ll each have a superstar assistant. I have my own ideas about who will win; let’s see if I’m right.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q; Decatur, AL
BBQ Plate: Tender pulled pork shoulder with coleslaw—arguably the best BBQ at the event from Chris Lilly (left).
VIP Area: None, unless you count the small open space next to a sparkling new Komodo Kamado smoker/grill on display. (It’s being called the next Big Green Egg.)
Typical VIP: A V.P from Bad Robot, the production company behind Star Trek.
Hill Country; NYC
BBQ Plate: Pete Daversa and Elizabeth Karmel's succulent beef brisket (fatty burnt ends were especially amazing) and Cool-as-a-Cucumber Salad.
VIP Area: A small tent.
Typical VIP: Firemen from West Village Squad 18.
Beverage: Spiked Tea (though not for the firemen).
17TH Street Bar & Grill; Murphysboro, IL
BBQ Plate: Mike Mills’s smoked baby back ribs with awesome baked beans.
VIP Area: A big tent with picnic tables and a barbecue-sauce fountain that transfixed a Japanese TV crew. (A jealous pit master called it the red carpet of Big Apple BBQ.)
Typical VIP: Legendary food writer Calvin Trillin.
Beverage: Very potent Pink Pull Your Panties Down Punch.
With one of my coworkers planning a wedding, a hot topic in the Test Kitchen has been catering companies and all the add-ons they offer. There's the ubiquitous chocolate fountain (which has grossed me out since I learned that it takes gallons of oil to keep it flowing properly) and the late-night coffee bar. My colleague Kate Heddings has not stopped talking about the mashed-potato bar she encountered at one wedding, with toppings ranging from chili to caviar. The latest add-on in Austin? Snow cones. But instead of flavoring the shaved ice Snoopy-style, with artificially colored, faux-fruit-flavored syrups, local event-planning company Caplan Miller uses liqueurs like Kahlúa and Baileys Irish Cream.
Nine days left until the world's premiere food event, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, June 19-21. For those still looking for tickets, F&W, QVC and KitchenAid have partnered up to offer an exclusive package to Extra viewers that includes round-trip airfare for two, a three-night hotel stay, tickets to the Food & Wine Publisher's Party, front-row seats to the Classic Quickfire Challenge, a QVC gift card worth $1,000 and amazing appliances from KitchenAid. Check out Extratv.com to learn how to enter the contest, and tune in to QVC at 11 a.m. (EST) on June 21 for a live broadcast from Aspen.
Hill Country's excellent pit master, Pete Daversa, has some tips for competitive eaters (and for those who really want to maximize barbecue consumption at the Big Apple BBQ).
* Don't starve yourself before the contest. Your stomach will shrink.
* Prior to the contest, eat lots of plain lettuce, celery or boiled cabbage. They're made of mostly water and will help stretch your belly without filling it up.
* Once you're full and can't eat any more, call it a day; don't risk choking or suffering what professionals call a "reversal of fortune."