Hung Huynh and Gail Simmons

Top Chef Hung Huynh and F&W's Gail Simmons

Our F&W Classic in Aspen doesn't get going in earnest until tomorrow, but last night a healthy percentage of early arrivals gathered at the subterranean bar Belly Up to watch the Top Chef Finale like the food tv groupies we are. The party was sponsored by, fittingly enough, the Rums of Puerto Rico. As I sipped on a refreshing Bacardi Superior with lavender syrup and tonic, I tried to look graceful while scrounging for a seat. The place was packed like it was the Super Bowl, folks crammed into tables and along the bars to watch the show on the big screen, everyone from our own Dana Cowin and Ray Isle to chefs like Michel Nischan and Andrew Shotts (the 2 both said they'd watch a lot more of the show if they weren't so busy cooking, and were glad to have a chance to watch the finale uninterrupted).

Top Chef judges Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi hadn't yet landed, but the fantastic Gail Simmons led the crowd in an informal poll: Stephanie won the warmest applause, Lisa many boos. Once the show started, it was tricky to hear over the chatter (Frank Bruni's take-down of Ago was the topic of the night). I snuck down to the speakers to hear what Richard Blais was teaching Eric Ripert over that steaming pot of liquid nitrogen, when I ran into last season's winner, Hung Huynh. During the commercial break before the judges' table he told me a little about the new restaurant he has planned, and his pick for the winner.