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The FOMO-Inducing Highlights of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen

See catering from the country's best restaurants, plus smart sponsor activations and more event ideas from the beloved mountaintop food festival.

By Tracy Block June 26, 2018, 7:12 AM EDT

The 36th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen set up its Grand Tasting tents with a lush Aspen Mountain backdrop.

Photo: Courtesy of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen

While Food & Wine's mission is to present on-trend stories about food and beverage personalities, dining and imbibing hot spots, and travel destinations, the subjects came to life—more than ever before—at the 36th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, held June 15 to 17 with 5,000 attendees.

The event's strategy “is all based on what our editors are identifying as new trends, and implementing more of our editorial content within new events,” said Diella Allen, the magazine's marketing event coordinator.

To kick off the sold-out weekend, Friday-night’s Fiesta de Peru was a joint partnership with both the Trade Commission of Peru, as well as the Food & Wine editors. “Peru is an amazing culinary destination, and [this year], Food & Wine covered why Peru has never been a better place to eat,” said Allen. “Our editors are really excited about it; the food is a spectacular mix of traditional and modern, and we wanted to bring that cuisine, and more information, on this destination.”

From a meet-and-greet with alpacas after guests exited the gondola to endless ceviche and cultural cocktails, to giveaways of bags with Nazca Lines motifs with Peruvian chocolate bars inside, the event was all-things Peru.

Another clear connection to the magazine's editorial was having new editor in chief Hunter Lewis participate in a seminar. He joined longtime mentor Jonathan Waxman, whom he worked under at Barbuto, for a session called A Bird in Hand: Chicken the Obi-Wan Waxman Way.

“This might be the first time we have had an editor in chief who worked in a kitchen in a professional way,” Allen noted.

At the Best New Chefs area within the Grand Tasting, the magazine's picks for top young talent had one significant change among the 10 honorees. “With more females than males in this year’s Best New Chefs, it’s exciting to see seven women in attendance—showcasing and cooking,” Allen said. Jess Shadbolt and Clare de Boer from King in New York served an artichoke soup, while Lady of the House’s Kate Williams, from Detroit, had one of the most photographed dishes: the lamb tartare Detroit coney.

A more in-depth play on the Best New Chefs came Saturday night at the 30th Anniversary Food & Wine Best New Chefs Dinner, which invited six past recipients to present a five-course meal. The lineup included Rocco DiSpirito (1999), Hugh Acheson (2002), Rick Bayless (1988), Stephanie Izard (2011), and Traci des Jardins and Elizabeth Falkner (both 1995). The dinner was paired with a roster of Chateau d’Esclans rosé pours.

“We decided to host this dinner to celebrate the alumni Best New Chefs from throughout the years, in collaboration with the editorial team, as something fun to do to celebrate that platform,” said Allen.

Course highlights included Bayless’s standout polenta-style Tamal Colado infused with foie gras, Oaxacan yellow mole, roasted chanterelle mushrooms, young turnip, and fennel and Izard’s crispy beef short rib with salted caramel and rhubarb-pickle relish. On top of white linens and simple table settings sat a surprise keepsake, the navy-blue dinner menu, which featured the silver signatures of all six chefs.

Another of the magazine's franchises, Restaurants of the Year, saw its expression in the Farewell Feast. Held at the newly renovated Hotel Jerome, the event encouraged guests to explore the property by scattering chef stations from top restaurants from around the country throughout the ground floor. Notable plates included chicken liver donuts from the Grand Café in Minneapolis, oxtails and Florida rice from Seattle's JuneBaby, and a twist on the patty melt dubbed the “party melt” from Better Luck Tomorrow in Houston. Scattered rose petals along the bar were the setting for Aria’s featured rose-infused vodka cocktail, the Aspen Cup, which made for a fitting sendoff toast to the weekend.

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