There are food events — and then there’s the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, which is in a class by itself. Attracting the best chefs in the business, top sommeliers from across the country and the world, and legions of dedicated food fans, there’s nowhere better than the Classic to get a sense of where the food and drink world is today. Having just returned from the mountains, here are five trends we spotted in Aspen.
1. Chefs are getting into mixology.
For a number of years now, it’s been hard to open a new restaurant without a sophisticated bar program; it’s no longer sufficient to have great wine and a few good beers on tap. But recently we’ve been seeing chefs themselves hitting the mixology beat. It makes sense — when you have a sense of flavor and technique, why wouldn’t you want to get into the liquid side of things? Marcus Samuelsson wowed an audience of Scotch drinkers at the Classic with his “Dapper Punch,” with Glenmorangie Scotch, orange, lemon, and Kronan Swedish Punsch— a nod to his Swedish upbringing.
2. Champagne for all occasions — really, all occasions.
Sure, we’ve moved away from the notion that Champagne is only for the most decadent meals or fanciest occasions. But the fact is, sparkling wine is a perfect pairing for even the least glamorous foods. Like popcorn — you’ve never had a better pairing than salty popcorn and bright, effervescent sparkling wines. Key quote from Leslie Sbrocco, who led a seminar on popcorn and bubbly: “A magnum is the perfect amount for sparkling wine for two people. If one of them isn’t drinking.”
3. Weed plus food isn’t just a novelty anymore.
At the Classic, which takes place in the first state to fully legalize recreational marijuana, chefs aren’t treating edibles as a joke — they’re finding the real bakers, chocolatiers, and others who take the time to understand the nuances of the product and integrate it into their best work. “At my favorite Aspen shop, they had handmade 70% cacao truffles laced with THC, marketed as craft chocolate — single origin chocolate, with pumpkin seeds and sea salt. People are paying attention to quality ingredients,” says a prominent food and drink professional (who would rather not be identified). Forget your associations with “space brownies” or the crazy cookies you ate in college — it’s all about the sophisticated edibles now.
4. Pop-ups aren’t going away.
A weekend-long event with so many prominent chefs, sommeliers, and media folks in town — what better occasion for a pop-up? Bars and restaurants availed themselves of the opportunity. From Oxheart’s two-day pop-up, bringing their acclaimed Houston restaurant to Aspen, to the tiny “Mini Jimmy’s” bar, quite literally in a closet, with drinks by Jeff Bell of PDT — the enthusiasm for pop-ups at the Classic showed that the industry’s obsession shows no signs of slowing.
5. Caviar goes with everything.
How much caviar can you eat in one weekend? We saw caviar in many of the expected places — atop smoked seafood, with copious amounts of Champagne — but in less predictable dishes, too. Walter Manzke of LA’s Republique topped pork belly with caviar; we saw caviar and caper-dusted chicharrón from Alexander's Steakhouse; and caviar on a tempura-fried shiso leaf from Matsuhisa. (Of course, a bump of caviar eaten straight will never go out of style.)