Wednesday, June 23, 2010

2010 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen Top Ten Highlights: Parts 1-5

AspenChoosing just ten highlights from Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is no easy task. Unless you've attended this event before, or been lucky enough to cover it, it's hard to fathom the variety of foods, wines, spirits, and culinary personalities you'll experience.

Having said that, here's part one of my top ten most memorable experiences. The final five highlights will be posted tomorrow. Enjoy!

The Voltaggio Brothers and the BLT - Past, Present, Future

Aspen Liquid nitrogen has become as ubiquitous on Top Chef as sleeve tattoos, so it was no surprise that last year's winner, Michael Voltaggio, used it to help create this unusual offering for the Food & Wine Classic's opening reception at the St. Regis.

Paired at the same table with his reserved, but no less talented brother, Bryan, their menu was billed as BLT - Past, Present, Future. Bryan's version was delicious, albeit relatively traditional; crisp pork belly roulade, thin slice of tomato gelee, garlic scape mayo and baby greens, served on a soft bun.
This bite clearly had the longest line waiting to try it, which once again proves my theory that, well, you know, bacon.

Aspen I assume this was the "past, present" part of the program, because as I moved towards his little brother's side of the station, it was clear we'd been transported into the future. Inside the clear shot glass was a tomato "gumdrop" on a stick, topped with bacon "dippin' dots," and micro greens.

This isn't food you eat, it's food you experience, and what an experience it was. Impossibly cold, the smoky spheres stuck to the sticky cube of sweet tomato jell, and together they melted on the palate in perfect harmony.

Jose Andres' Pork Communion

Aspen Imagine a pig roast set-up alongside a gorgeous mountain stream. Picture a who's who of star chefs sipping the finest Spanish wines alongside the biggest names in food publishing, press, and public relations, as thin wisps of sweet, pork-scented smoke float by.

Aspen This was the scene at the annual Wines from Spain barbecue hosted by Jose Andres. As the giddy crowd mingled around platters of chorizo, blood sausage, and savory pig parts from snout to tail (literally), the always jovial Spanish chef performed what can only be described as "pork communion."

Aspen Using the preamble, "this is the pig of God," he would lovingly place a crispy wafer of mustard-dipped pork skin, or juicy slice of medium-rare skirt steak on someone's tongue. Dear God, it was good. Sacrilege you say? More like sacrilicious!

Food & Wine's Best New Chefs Dinner

While I enjoy the parties, celebrities, and limitless libations as much as the next reporter, I'm in Aspen to cover the food, so for me it doesn't get any better than Food & Wine's Best New Chefs

Aspen Ten of the country's best and brightest culinary stars are brought together to show off their skills and cutting edge cuisine in a head-to-head battle royal. I'm sure these chefs always try to put out great tasting food, but knowing that nine of their peers are pulling out all the stops to be named, "Best New Chef," would certainly raise anyone's game.

This year's title went to Jonathon Sawyer, chef at the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Sawyer (who also won for "best beard") served a fromage blanc raviolini on stewed tomatoes, topped with herbs and crispy crumbs. It was delicious, and perfectly executed.

Aspen Another standout was an impossibly light, yet strangely satisfying scrambled egg mousse with salmon roe and birch syrup, served by John Shields, chef at Town House in Chilhowie, Virginia. I admitted to the chef that this one had me worried when I read it on the menu, but it was stellar. I never get tired of being wrong.

Aspen Street food legend, Roy Choi, mastermind of the famously successful Kogi BBQ trucks in Los Angeles, offered up a "chego" meatball, served with polenta, sesame, cilantro, peppers, glazed with a sweet and spicy sauce. Apparently "chego" is a Korean exclamation meaning something to the effect of, "Holy [expletive deleted], that's unbelievably delicious!" If it doesn't, it should, because it was.

Kudos to all ten of the Best New Chefs for an amazing evening of edible improvisation. If you'd like to see all ten dishes, check out this captioned photo gallery.

The Thomas Keller Preservation Society

Aspen Arguably America's top chef, Thomas Keller is known for creating some of the most beautiful, forward-thinking, innovative food in the country. So I'll admit to being just a little bit disappointed to find out his demo in Aspen was called, World's Best Preserves. When I think preserves, I picture dusty mason jars in the back of a cupboard.

Having said that, if the demo was titled, "Thomas Keller Reads from the Aspen Yellow Pages," I'd have still been the first one in line. In fact, to give you a better idea, I missed an event called "Fat is Phat" to see him. As it turns out, not only wasn't I disappointed, I was completely enthralled.

Aspen Charming, witty, and sternly professorial all at the same time, this "chef's chef" took the audience through three easy-to-make, multi-functional preserves. We learned how to do cured lemons, mushroom conserva, and olive tapenade, all of which were from his critically acclaimed Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.

In addition to learning how to make the preserves, Chef Keller offered lots of ideas on how to use these "life savers," as he calls them. It was a fun, informative lecture, and I'll be posting recipes from it soon, so stay tuned!

Tim Love Love

Aspen If I had to choose just one chef from the impressive collection in Aspen to drive cross-country with, it would be Tim Love. And that's before I saw his epic High Steaks Grilling demo. This is a man who knows how to have a good time, as well as grill a damn fine steak.

Aspen I've been to many educational cooking lessons, and I've been to many entertaining cooking lessons, but very rare is the occasion where both meld into one perfectly pleasurable presentation. This was maybe the single most enjoyable cooking demo I've every attended.

In additional to being hilarious, and laser-fast with the one-liners, Love is a natural born teacher with a ton of great grilling knowledge. He had the large audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he poured his first glass of white wine, which by the way, is what he suggests you drink while you grill.

Aspen Next week I'll be doing an in-depth grilling tips and tricks post with all the information I collected. I think you'll be very surprised at some of Love's somewhat controversial theories and practices. I'll also be posting a short, but priceless video clip of something called "oil shot roulette." In anticipation, you can read this blog post I did at last year's Classic for a little tease.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the final five highlights from the 2010 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.


iliea said...

thanks for the coverage, chef john! it's like i got to be there!

Wristbands said...

Can't wait for the Keller-inspired dishes! I've cooked over 20 recipes from Ad Hoc and can say they were all amazingly delicious!

Anonymous said...

Wow! I am very impressed with your voice over recipe instructions, but your reporting skills may even top that!

Anonymous said...

I was the victim of oil shot roulette...can't wait to see the video. Great blog...

Chef John said...

lol, we are honored to have you. Maybe you'll add some comments after the post this week. btw, was it as bad as Tim Love made it out to be?

hampers said...

being a wine lover, i enjoyed going through your blog. Keep on posting.