Every year for the past 31 years, for four days in the summer, the foodie circus comes to town. Tents are erected. Generators installed. Thousands of oysters arrive on dry ice in styrofoam containers. Chefs fly in, bringing with them on their arms, more tattoos than Aspen sees the other 361 days of the year combined. Thousands of consumers — each of whom paid more than a $1,150 for weekend passes — fill up the Little Nell, stream from the Hotel Jerome, or if they’re lucky Dancing Bear. This is the Food & Wine Classic, the annual festival held in Aspen, Colo., that this year ran the weekend of June 13.
This reporter for The Hollywood Reporter attended for the first time this year, heady with excitement and weighed down with dread. The excitement first: Any food writer or lover of food can’t help be awed by the conclave of chefs. Everyone is here from the Best New Chefs of 2013, including Danny Bowien from Mission Chinese and Alex Stupak from Empellon to OG’s like Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, David Chang, Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, Tom Colicchio and the rest of the culinary round table. Heroes actress Ali Larter was also spotted there over the weekend.
For those of you who haven’t been, here are some life lessons to be learned if you do plan on coming. Oh, and buy your tickets for 2014 early. This year’s sold out in record time.
1. Drink lots of water.
Aspen is at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. Drink a lot of water is the advice I got from old pros like Anthony Giglio, the Wine Wise Guy, whose been coming for 16 years.. “For every glass of wine, I drink a bottle of water,” he said. Giglio is constantly peeing but it’s better than getting dehydrated. That’s the sub-level life lesson: Everyone is peeing.
2. Everybody in Aspen is from Houston.
Aspen is still a cowboy town in the way that Vail isn’t. But that still can’t account for the number of cowboy boots. The Grand Tasting tent looked like Durango showroom. There was even a Lexus with steerhorns affixed to the front. The booth said, “Don’t Mess With Texas, Unless You’re Lexus.”
Nearly everyone I met has a Texas twang. From the guy eating breakfast at Dancing Bear Aspen to the tax attorney on my flight to a drunk woman asking where Aspen was. It turns out nearly everyone here is from Houston. There’s a direct flight. There’s a ton of money down there. It’s hot as a pistol down there.
3. There's no food at the Grand Tastings.
The Grand Tasting is the main event of the Food & Wine Classic. It occupies the entirety of Wagner Park. Hundreds of vendors set up shop at long tables. It’s like Comic-Con for foodies. I went hungry, but it turns out Food & Wine puts the emphasis on the wine part. There’s little food here and lots of booze.
4. There are a lot of tote bags.
Within the first 20 hours, one can easily accumulate four tote bags (photo courtesy of Natasha Wolff). And by the end of the weekend, that count is likely to increase to eight. In fact, one has so many tote bags, one needs a larger tote bag to hold them. This is the recursive curse of tote bags, a vicious cycle of canvas carry-alls.
5. The real parties are either at the Riesling House or 212 House.
So about those parties. There are the official parties, like Last Bites with Gail Simmons and then there are the unofficial after parties, like the late night ones at Riesling House, where Daniel Boulud and Paul Grieco hold court, or the infamous 212 House, which is where chefs go to do debauched things. As a journalist, I am barred from the 212 House, and even those journalists who manage to get in maintain a strict code of omerta, lest their privilege be revoked. One spends most of the night talking about the aforementioned parties, seeking to learn their locales (which change every year) and the secrets of getting in. But here’s something I heard which is true: “You have to realize, the next party is just the same people as this one, but an hour later in a different room.”