I hope you enjoyed part one of my ten highlights from the 2010 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, which was posted yesterday. If you haven't seen that yet, you can catch-up here. Like I said in that post, choosing these highlights wasn't easy, but it sure was fun.
As I selected photos to match these last five entries, going through four days worth of shots, it was like experiencing things all over again. Except, of course, for that one little detail of not being able to taste any of it!
Tails and Ales
Including this special luncheon hosted by Stella Artois was a no-brainer. It featured venerable New Orleans chef, John Besh, who cooked a six-course crawfish menu, which was paired with three Belgium brews by Master Beer Sommelier, Marc Stroobandt. Come on, do the math. How was that not going to be awesome? And awesome it was.
Some of my favorites included an amuse of crawfish boil "en gelee," served in an eggshell, a fried softshell-crawfish take on a Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich, and a stellar crawfish bisque garnished with stuffed crawfish heads. I really could just list the entire menu as a highlight - everything was fantastic.
Each table sported a big bucket of ice, into which were nestled bottles of Stella Artois, Lefe, and Hoegaarden. As Besh talked tail, Stroobrandt circled the room, making pairing suggestions, and doing what he called "beer magic tricks." Things like taking a spoonful of the foamy head to taste the bitter hops, then sipping the beer directly afterward to accentuate the sweetness of the malt. It was just like regular magic, only not useless.
By the way, did you know that hops are a powerful appetite stimulant? So, at the risk of sounding like Homer Simpson (having the same hair is bad enough), may I suggest a few bottles of beer as an appetizer at your next dinner party? And, if you can swing it, see if you can get John Besh to drop by and cook up some crawfish.
Breakfast with Fabio
I knew former Top Chef favorite Fabio Viviani was charismatic, and easy on the eyes, but could he cook? The answer is an unequivocal, yes. I was invited to an early morning, private demo sponsored by Bertolli, where he prepared a delicious and beautiful plate of food, while explaining the proper use of three different types of olive oil.
He did a seared beef tenderloin with pan-roasted cherry tomatoes and scallions, served with a feta avocado salad. He used a light olive oil to sear the meat, a regular olive oil to do the tomatoes and onions, and a fruity, extra-virgin olive oil to finish the salad and dress the plate. It was simple, rustic cooking at its best.
As he cooked with that familiar twinkle in his eye, he explained how and why he was using the three distinctly different oils. As a teacher I really appreciated his easy manner and entertaining delivery. While we enjoyed the fruits of his labor, he chatted about some very exciting new projects, which I'm sworn to keep secret for now. Stay tuned for more news on that front soon.
I forget which of the all-star wine panelists said it, and I'm probably paraphrasing, but it was the wisest thing I've ever heard uttered at a tasting... a wine should taste like somewhere. In this case the somewhere was Tuscany, and the wine was Antinori Tignanello.
In a tradition started last year, I will reserve one spot in this top ten list for a non-food entry. What better inaugural choice than the reserve wine tasting I attended featuring this great Italian wine? Antinori Tignanello is Tuscany's most famous wine, and led by wine guru Richard Betts, we tasted nine different vintages.
As wonderful as it was to actually drink the wine (I don't do spit buckets), listening to the panel, which included David Lynch and Bobby Stuckey, was just as enjoyable (their tongues are worth more than your house). It was like analogies and adjectives gone wild.
Making the event even more special, we were joined by Alessia Antinori, who shared insights into her family's four-decade-long history making this "super Tuscan." I was completely captivated listening to her and the panel explain why the different vintages tasted the way they did.
Pictured here in the foreground is the 1964 (notice the beautiful color variation). While everyone agreed it wasn't the "best" wine we tasted, for me it was certainly the most memorable. I sipped and savored it slowly, literally tasting Tuscany as it tasted when I was one year old.
The Classic Quickfire - A Delicious Double Entendre
The Classic Quickfire in Aspen is, of course, named for the short, timed challenges on America's favorite cooking reality show, Top Chef, but it could also refer to the one-liners that were flying all over the stage Fathers Day morning.
This event's signature characteristic is the colorful give and take between host Sissy Biggers, the contestants, and the judges' table, which included the articulate and charming Gail Simmons, and cantankerous, quick-witted Tom Colicchio. They were joined by Jacques Pepin, and Food & Wine's Dana Cowin. Now that's a judges' table.
This year it is was Top Chef champ, Michael Voltaggio, taking on Top Chef Masters winner, Rick Baylass - a perfect contrast between young brash and old Zen. The theme was "sexy vegetables," and in addition to a metro rack filled with produce, each chef had one mystery ingredient with which to create a dish in just 25 minutes. Bayless drew lobster, while Voltaggio received rack of lamb.
In case you're scoring at home, Rick Bayless won a narrow victory with a warm lobster and potato salad, topped with roasted tomatillo salsa. Voltaggio made an equally delicious looking platter of seared lamb loin and olive butter, garnished with eggplant crostini topped with tomato seed "caviar."
Voting was done with a show of colored paper held up by the adoring crowd. The method is as fun, as it is unscientific, and really, no one cares. This event is all about having fun and raising money for KitchenAid's "Cook for the Cure" program, which funds breast cancer research.
To that end, a gentleman named Todd bid $10,000 for the pleasure of acting as Rick Baylass' sous chef. As he shaved white asparagus for the always-composed chef, he got his money's worth, trading barbs with Colicchio, much to the amusement of the crowd.
Chef Colicchio was in rare form. As Baylass was just about to kill his lobster, Colicchio wondered out loud if it was a father. When Jacques Pepin joked about trying a little liquid nitrogen to liven things up in the bedroom (much to the horror of daughter, Claudine), Tom shot back with, "Jacques, it's not a preservative." How do you say, "Snap!" in French?
Voltaggio was assisted by surprise celebrity sous chef, actress Allison Janney, from the hit show, LOST. She was great, displaying a droll sense of humor, and some pretty decent cooking skills. By the way, while she was on stage cooking, I was technically one of "the others."
It was a thoroughly entertaining morning, and only served to strengthen my belief that this is one of the must-see events at the Classic. They say laughter is the best medicine, and I think there were a lot of hung over people in attendance that would agree.
The Grand Cochon: 10 Chefs, 10 Pigs, 1 Crown
My Food & Wine Classic weekend ended in a climax of porky goodness at the Grand Cochon. Hosted by Gail Simmons and Brady Lowe from the Taste Network, the "Big Pig" featured ten winners from Cochon555 events previously held around the country. Each chef created an impressive array of dishes using an entire heritage- breed pig.
What was the food like? Think pork-stuffed pork, wrapped in pork, braised in pork, finished with sliced pork, and topped with some sort of sauce made from pork. By the way, I thought the fried pork garnish was a great call. Thank goodness Stella Artois was there, since they've yet to perfect beer made from pork.
In addition to some incredibly creative concoctions, like this braised heart and trotter "boudin," from The French Laundry's Devin Knell, we were treated to a butchering demo by San Francisco's Ryan Farr from 4505 Meats. I was impressed by how many people gathered around to watch, although in fairness, there was a large bowl of chicharones (crispy fried pork rinds) on the table next to him.
Here you can see Gail Simmons crowning the "King of Porc," David Varley from Bourbon Steak in Washington D.C. For more information on the participants, as well as Cochon555's mission to support the use of heritage- breed pigs, please check out the official website.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed these top ten highlights a fraction as much as I enjoyed collecting and sharing them. Please stay tuned for recipes and tips from Thomas Keller, Tim Love, Jose Andres, just to name a few.