The 30th iteration of the Food & Wine Classic kicks off on Friday in Aspen, Colorado, which means big-name chefs like Mario Batali, Jacques Pépin, and Emeril Lagasse—along with 5,000 affluent food enthusiasts—are preparing once again for one of the most anticipated wining-and-dining events in the world.
For this year’s milestone event, the planning team started with a structured brainstorming session according to vice president and publisher of Food & Wine Christina Grdovic Baltz. “While our team is always planning year round, what was really different for the anniversary was that as soon as last year’s was over, we set up an organized brainstorming session in Aspen with the local production team, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, and the Food & Wine marketing team from New York,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we blew it out this year.”
The result was the addition of several new events to the schedule. On Friday, Bobby Flay will lead a 5K run benefiting Food & Wine’s Grow for Good initiative, which supports local and sustainable agriculture. Later that night, Food & Wine editor and host of Top Chef: Just Desserts Gail Simmons will host Last Bite, a late-night dessert party featuring sweets by pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini. The weekend’s headlining event is a two-hour dinner in the Benedict Music Tent catered by Mario Batali, José Andrés, and Michel Nischan, followed by a live concert from Elvis Costello and the Blue Beguilers.
“For the concert, we really wanted to find somebody that everyone from the 25-year-olds to the 55-year-olds would find exciting and relevant,” Grdovic Baltz said. “While there are [plenty of new artists who] have songs that are popular right now, we didn’t necessarily want someone that wasn’t even alive 30 years ago. We found that, with Elvis Costello, the cross-generational appeal was great.”
All 5,000 $1,225 weekend passes sold out by April, something that hasn’t happened since the beginning of the recession in 2008. “I think it’s a combination of the economy being better, the new programming and talent, and the fact that it’s a big anniversary,” Grdovic Baltz said. “We sold out sooner than we have in the last several years, and I think our repeat visitors were not prepared for that. It’s a big challenge for us, because we have people calling us, but we simply don’t have any more passes. We hate to turn down selling tickets, but we want to protect the experience and not be in a situation where guests can’t get in or the line is too long.” While organizers did not sell one-day passes this year—as has intermittently happened in past years—those without weekend passes can purchase $350 tickets to the concert on Saturday, or join in the 5K for a $30 entry fee.
To accommodate for the additional events, the planners decided to nix the Best New Chefs dinner traditionally held on Saturday evening and instead feature this year’s winners in a dedicated area inside the Grand Tasting Pavilion throughout the weekend. Each of the five Grand Tastings will feature two winners. “One of the biggest challenges this year was figuring out how to fit all the additional events into the schedule,” Grdovic Baltz said. “I would like to tell you we came up with the idea of moving the Best New Chefs into the Grand Tasting because we realized it was a really smart thing to do, but initially it was a solution to the problem of having too many evening events. But we’re really excited now that everybody will get a chance to taste the food from our Best New Chefs winners.”
The new events have also provided additional opportunities and integrations for new and returning sponsors. “Happily, there are lots of sponsors that come back year after year, like Lexus, Kitchen Aid, All-Clad, and Wines from Spain,” Grdovic Baltz said. “Belvedere is a sponsor we’ve worked with for a couple years, but they were one of the first to sign on to sponsor the concert this year. Two sponsors this year that we haven’t worked with before are C9—Champion’s line of fitness gear for Target—and Pure Protein, who are both sponsoring the charity run.”
Another new sponsor is Hellmann’s mayonnaise, which will sponsor a behind-the-scenes video series on hellmans.com as part of its “Real Tastes Better” marketing campaign. (Hellmann’s, which is made from oil, eggs, and vinegar, is pledging to switch to cage-free eggs by 2020.) The company will share nearly two dozen videos from the festival online, and will host a lunch Saturday afternoon at local eatery Jimmy’s with chef Tim Love.
Addition programming this year will include new seminar formats, such as an audience-driven Q&A with Giada De Laurentiis and a panel discussion with Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio, and Grant Achatz, as well as more hands-on seminars including knife-skills classes sponsored by Sur La Table.