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So Much Food, So Little Time

So Much Food, So Little Time
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Pinch me.

I just got back from Food & Wine magazine’s annual culinary extravaganza in Aspen. The official title (and they do like it when you say it right) is the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Now before I make you drool with all the yummy things I got to do and see, I need you to know that I actually did learn a lot. I did not sleep a lot.

So the event has two programs; one is for consumers, the other for people in the “trade.” Press, that’s me, gets to go to both — oh happy day.

The consumer side is all about celebrity chefs and wine tastings — and celebrities they are. Some are known simply by one name — like Ming; Padma; or “Iron Chef” Morimoto — and could barely walk five yards without being stopped for an autograph or a photo. Sorta cool that these people who work their tails off making beautiful food get a few days of swooning fans and paparazzi-esque behaviour. A few times it was a bit much and egos did swell to maximum capacity, but it was fun to watch.

I got to learn how to make steamed pork buns from New York culinary darling David Chang. Okay, I didn’t, because I was at another seminar. I really wanted to go, but I had a scheduling conflict. But I did get the recipe and manage to eat about 10 of them at a private party that night. I apologize to those who didn’t get any; they were good, and I’ll share the recipe. I did go see Barbara Lynch, who showed a packed ballroom how to make fresh ricotta cheese. Tom Colicchio was also there, along with Bobby Flay, Marcus Samuelsson, Danny Meyer, Jose Andres, and Jacques Pepin. It was impossible to go to all the cooking sessions, because there wine tastings, too.

Wine writer Anthony Giglio made me laugh so hard I cried, with his seminar “Old World vs. New World Smackdown.” I not only got to taste French and New World grape varietals side by side and hear a full explanation as to why these grapes taste so different, depending on provenance, but I have a new understanding for what a cul de sac is. Anthony brought his whole wonderful family with him — children, sister, parents — and if you have a chance to ever meet his dad, Tony, you’ll understand that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. But I digress.

David Lynch, former sommelier of Babbo (you know Mario Batali, right?), opened a few of his off-the-beaten track Italian favorites. I always think I know from wine, but we tasted a “petite Arvine” from Val d’Aosta (crisp and minerally, great for summer), a “Nebbiola” from Lombardia (Nebbiola is the backbone of Barbaresco and Barolos; I didn’t know Nebbiolo grapes grew outside the Piedmont), plus interesting bottles from Sicily, Sardegna, Puglia, and Basilicata. Bravo.

And one of my wine heroes, Daniel Johnnes (I kept calling him David Jones, luckily not to his face) taught a class on Oregon Pinot Noirs. For those of you who pooh-pooh them or other New World Pinots — get over it! We tasted a 2005 Ponzi “Abetina” that I wanted to marry.

And then there were the tasting tents: two huge tents with four rows of tables end to end, flanked by winemakers and their reps pouring wine from hundreds of thousands of bottles.

There were panel discussions that covered a gamut of topics in marketing and branding, plus private functions and parties, and of course a celebration of Food & Wine magazine’s choice of the country’s “Best New Chefs.” Tim Cushman from O Ya in Boston was among the 10, and he and his wife, Nancy, certainly deserve all the praise they’re getting this year.

Oh yeah … Michel Nischan was recognized for his work with Wholesome Wave by the magazine’s “Grow for Good” campaign, which is helping to foster the local-farm and sustainable-food movement. Well deserved! A lot of chefs are talking about this movement and that’s music to my ears — but Michel is walking the walk.

Updated Monday, June 23rd, 2008

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