Participants toasting at the Food & Wine Classic

A Timeline of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen

Relive 40 years of festival history and highlights.

In 1983, local business owners created the Aspen/Snowmass International Wine Classic to draw visitors to the region during a slow shoulder season. 40 years later, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen has become the most influential culinary event in the world, annually bringing thousands of food and wine fans together with the biggest names in the culinary world to celebrate, teach, sample, and innovate. Here's how the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen got started, and some of the highlights along the way.


People dining at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, 1983
Guests sample the offerings at the inaugural Aspen/Snowmass International Wine Classic.

Aspen Historical Society, Aspen Times Collection

More than 300 people attend the inaugural Aspen/Snowmass International Wine Classic, founded by Gary Plumley from Of Grape and Grain in Aspen and Bob and Ruth Kevan of Chez Grandmere.


The original logo for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
The original logo for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, then called the Aspen/Snowmass International Wine Classic.

Aspen Historical Society, Aspen Times Collection

Food & Wine magazine becomes the title sponsor of the Aspen/Snowmass International Wine Classic. Tickets are $125, and key speakers include cookbook author Marion Cunningham and chefs Bradley Ogden and Hubert Keller.


Guests at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, 1988
Local wine and hospitality pros gather at a more casual early incarnation of the festival.

Food & Wine Archives

The name of the festival is changed to the Aspen/Snowmass Food & Wine Classic, and programming is expanded to include food exhibitors, wine tastings and seminars, cooking demonstrations by master chefs, and food authorities as speakers. A three-day pass is $165, or $180 with lodging. More than 1,000 people attend. The American Express Restaurant Trade Program, aimed at hospitality pros, is introduced.


Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Ila Stanger and another guest
Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and others are honored with a Best New Chefs accolade by editor in chief Ila Stanger.

Sharon Stern / Food & Wine Archives

Food & Wine introduces the inaugural America’s Best New Chefs, and honorees include Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Rick Bayless. Attendance swells to 1,500, even as the three-day pass climbs to $250. Wine writer and TV host Hugh Johnson is the keynote speaker at the event.


Champagnes chilling
Champagne chills in buckets at the Classic, which now includes 120 winemakers.

Aspen Historical Society, Aspen Times Collection

Nearly 2,000 people come to the Classic, with 120 winemakers in attendance. Pinot Noir is all the rage in the tasting tents and seminars, and there is a polo match.


Scanned program
Program from the 1990 Classic.

Food & Wine Archives

Julia Child is the featured speaker at what is now the most renowned food event of its kind. 


The Classic ends with the Dessert Extravaganza, where guests can sample sparkling wine and dessert wine along with a parade of lavish desserts.


Best New Chefs Recipe Book page, Tom Colicchio
Festival attendees receive a spiral-bound cookbook with recipes from the new class of Food & Wine Best New Chefs, including Tom Colicchio.

Food & Wine Archives

For its 10th anniversary, the name of the festival is changed to the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, and the event moves solely to Aspen. Recipients of the first Distinguished Restaurants of North America award are honored in a year when there are no Best New Chefs announced. Danny Meyer, who is there helping Best New Chef Michael Romano, goes out for a fateful breakfast with Tom Colicchio, where the two sketch out the restaurant that will eventually become Gramercy Tavern.


Negatives of photos of Julia Child
Julia Child meets fans and holds a puppy at the Classic.

Matt Taylor-Gross

The first-ever Meet the Masters panel is held and includes legends like Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, Marcella Hazan, and Patricia Wells. 


The Classic is deemed the “granddaddy of them all” by The New York Times. The magazine’s new executive editor, Dana Cowin, attends for the first time after having joined the Food & Wine staff just a week before. Marcella Hazan’s son, Giuliano, presents for the first time, making him the third member of the Hazan family to be part of the onstage talent mix. 


The Classic attracts a record 5,000 people.


Jacques Pepin and other guests at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, 1990
Jacques Pépin mingles with guests in the tents at the Classic.

Aspen Historical Society, Aspen Times Collection

The Classic debuts its first­-ever International Pavilion, featuring culinary and wine representatives from places such as Portugal, Canada, France, and Ireland. Seminars feature 20 master chefs and include 80 seminars on cooking, wine, and industry trade programs. Jacques Pépin surprises his daughter, Claudine, by telling her she’s going to cook onstage with him for the first time, and the dynamic is so vibrant, it leads to the PBS show Jacques Pépin’s Kitchen: Cooking with Claudine later that year. The Classic is aired live on Good Morning America. 


To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Best New Chefs, more than 50 recipients of the award are reunited at the Classic. Jimmy’s, An American Restaurant and Bar opens in Aspen during the Classic and hosts a “whisper party” after the Best New Chefs dinner, to which chef Jimmy Bradley, wine experts Joshua Wesson and Steve Olson and Jimmy’s proprietor, Jimmy Yeager, invite a select number of attendees through whispers. More than 700 people attend.


This is the first year of the Classic Cook-Off, a 25-minute competition. The inaugural contestants are Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Jacques Pépin, and Susan Feniger; it’s an instant hit. Spirits are finally introduced to the Grand Tasting Tent through Jimmy’s premium cocktail exhibition, educating attendees on the benefits of using high-quality spirits in mixed drinks.


There’s a complete redesign of the tents to add square footage and make room for even more international participants, such as New Zealand. CNN airs a half-­hour segment about the Classic on its show Travel Now.


Mexico is represented at the Classic for the first time.


After Jacques Pépin receives the National Father’s Day Committee’s Father of the Year Award, he prepares a Father’s Day feast at the Classic with his daughter, Claudine. 


A VHS tape from the Food & Wine Archives
The Classic is chronicled in a special on Fine Living.

Matt Taylor-Gross

Nearly 200 stories are published about the 20th anniversary of the Classic, which is attended by more than 110 members of the press. (Gordon Elliott dubs the event “a media circus.”) 


Kevin Costner at the 2003 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
Kevin Costner takes the stage to compete against chefs at the Classic.

Food & Wine Archives

Kevin Costner, John O’Hurley, and Law & Order’s Stephanie March attend the Classic and show off their culinary talents during the Classic Cook-Off. 


Publisher's Party with humans painted like wild animals
Performers painted as animals entertain guests, including Christina Grdovic at the Publisher's Party atop Aspen Mountain.

Patrick McMullen

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the American Express Restaurant Trade Program, with a first-time session titled Independents and Chains: A Meeting of the Minds, featuring participants such as Niki Leondakis of Kimpton Group and Chris Sullivan of Outback Steakhouse. To celebrate Dana Cowin’s 10-year anniversary as editor in chief, Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud pop out of a cake that Danny Meyer and Drew Nieporent bring out on stage.


Alexis Bledel at the 2005 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
Alexis Bledel attends the Classic.

Food & Wine Archives

The Classic breaks its sponsorship record, with 16 sponsors. Celebrities including Jeri Ryan of Star Trek: Voyager, Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls, and Queen Noor of Jordan attend the event.


Harold Dieterle with two other guests at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
Harold Dieterle attends the 2006 Classic.

Food & Wine Archives

Actor George Hamilton is among the celebrities who attend the Classic this year, which is a year of firsts for the festival: the first time Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse appear together; the first cocktail seminar (The Perfect Cocktail Party with Tony Abou-­Ganim); and the first time the Classic Cook-Off includes one of Bravo’s Top Chefs — Harold Dieterle, winner of the first season, who meets Meredith Lynn Davies at the Classic. They marry in 2010. 


To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Classic, Food & Wine magazine launches Grow for Good, pledging to raise $1 million in support of Farm to Table, a national initiative dedicated to supporting local farms and encouraging sustainable agriculture. Actor Judith Light attends. All 10 Best New Chefs cook together at a dinner for 700 guests.


It snows in Aspen, so for the first time, Aspen Mountain is open for skiing during the Classic. (The only other time this has happened was 11 years later, in 2019.) Chef David Chang personally pays for mimes to unnerve the crowd at his David Chang & Friends barbecue event at Hickory House, where he cooks with Wylie Dufresne.


Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, Hosea Rosenberg, Stephanie Izard
Gail Simmons, Hosea Rosenberg, Stephanie Izard, and Tom Colicchio gather for a 'Top Chef' cook-off in Aspen.

Perry Johnson

The signature Sunday event, the Classic Cook-Off, switches over to the Classic Quickfire, featuring Jacques Pépin, Ming Tsai, Top Chef: New York winner Hosea Rosenberg, and Top Chef: Chicago winner Stephanie Izard. Top Chef judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons preside over the judges’ table, alongside editor in chief Dana Cowin. The fourth judge is the top bidder at a live auction benefiting KitchenAid’s Cook for the Cure.


The Classic offers day passes for the first time, providing guests with the opportunity to attend two Grand Tastings in a single day. Tom Colicchio, Michel Nischan, and Joe Bastianich are the house band at the industry-only Two Twelve Access Aspen and play “Surrender” by Cheap Trick in the backyard. At the Wines from Spain party, people line up for spit-roasted pork, which José Andrés hand-feeds to guests directly into their mouths. His daughters appear onstage with him for his demo.


Colorado urban winery The Infinite Monkey Theorem hosts the first-ever Wine at the Mine party at Smuggler’s Mine (not an official Classic event). During the party, the DJ blows a fuse, and the entire mine goes dark. Susan Feniger flings Turkish doughnuts into the audience.


5K with Bobby Flay and Marcus Samuelsson
Bobby Flay, Marcus Samuelsson, and Danny Meyer compete in a 5K race for charity.

Huge Galdones

For its 30th anniversary, the Classic introduces 10 new features, including the first-ever live music concert by Elvis Costello & The Blue Beguilers, a 5K charity race with Bobby Flay, a late-night dessert party with Gail Simmons, and a hands-on knife skills seminar presented by Sur La Table. All 5,000 tickets sell out early, for the first time since the financial crisis in 2008. Tickets cost $1,185 per person. Michael Symon burns a hole in the overhead mirror during the Classic Cook-Off.


Edible helium balloons by Grant Achatz
A guest samples an edible helium balloon made by Grant Achatz.

Huge Galdones

Actress Allison Janney joins Andrew Zimmern as his sous chef in the Classic Cook-Off against Geoffrey Zakarian. The Classic celebrates the 25th anniversary of Best New Chefs with a special dinner at the top of the mountain including BNC alumni Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and David Chang. Jimmy Yeager hosts the world’s smallest secret bar in the utility closet of Jimmy’s Bodega, called Mini Jimmy’s. Grant Achatz serves edible green apple taffy helium balloons at the top of the mountain.


The Classic sells out at a record pace; tickets are gone by the end of February.  


Jacques Pepin celebrates his birthday with a large croquembouche
Jacques Pépin is surprised with a massive croquembouche at a celebration of his 80th birthday.

Huge Galdones

The Classic honors Jacques Pépin’s 80th birthday with a gigantic croquembouche at the Publisher’s Party, and P!nk competes in the Classic Cook-Off along with former NBA player John Salley, Carla Hall, and Andrew Zimmern.


Festival organizers introduce the official app of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and host its first-ever live-stream cooking demo


A hundred guests (out of the 4,000-plus who attend the Classic) are invited to a special secluded taping of Top Chef. Also secluded: a private luxury cannabis lounge hosted by Toast on a decked-out bus. (Cannabis was legalized in Colorado in 2012.) A fox once again crashes the photo shoot at the top of the mountain, as it has since 2014. 


This is the first Classic overseen by editor in chief Hunter Lewis. Best New Chef alumni (Rocco DiSpirito, Hugh Acheson, Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard, and Traci Des Jardins) cook for the Best New Chefs dinner to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the awards program. At the Fiesta de Peru party at the top of the mountain (in partnership with the Trade Commission of Peru), attendees are greeted with alpacas. 


First-time Classic attendee Ruth Reichl and Martha Stewart present at the Classic (not together). An intense storm traps attendees in gondolas on their way up to the Publishers Party at the top of Aspen Mountain.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Classic in Aspen is canceled. The Classic at Home, a digital, live-streamed event free for all viewers, takes place July 23 on Youtube, featuring cooking demonstrations and wine tastings (with wines viewers could buy ahead of time to sip at home along with the speakers) led by F&W staff and industry experts. It is free for all viewers, and 8,100 people tune in. Ray Isle whirrs pizza and wine together in a blender.


Guy Fieri makes his Classic debut with a vegan cheeseburger demo. The 2020 and 2021 classes of Best New Chefs are invited to the Classic, which is back in person. 


Three NBA stars with wine brands, Dwyane Wade, CJ McCollum, and Carmelo Anthony, participate at the Classic. The festival sells out in record time; all tickets are gone within three hours. Kwame Onwuachi cooks for a Juneteenth celebration, during which the live DJ band ignites a dance party with the Cupid Shuffle, Cha Cha Slide, and the Wobble. 


The Classic turns 40 with an Icons and Innovators theme and special programming, including onstage tributes to Jacques Pépin, Julia Child, and other culinary icons from Classics past; a headliner concert with Tedeschi Trucks Band; concierge service in the Grand Tasting Tents; seminars on Top Chef and investing in wine; and an all-new Classic Cook-Out — an asada with Claudette Zepeda and Bricia Lopez at the top of Aspen Mountain. 

Top image by Andrea Booher / Food & Wine Archives

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