To put it in perspective, when the inaugural F&W Classic in Aspen kicked off (before Food & Wine was even the head sponsor), I was three years old, Ronald Reagan gave his first address to the UN General Assembly and Drew Barrymore was a child star in the newly released “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
Fast forward 33 years, I finally attended my first Aspen Classic on behalf of several clients, Reagan has been gone for over a decade and the now uber-celebrity Barrymore spread a wave of excitement around the festival making appearances for the launch of her newest venture, Barrymore Pinot Grigio from Monterey, CA. Spoiler alert, it was pretty tasty and Drew is adorable.
Five days and very little sleep later, I learned a few things. Here are my top three takeaways:
- Gail Simmons is the nicest food celebrity (and potentially one of the nicest people) on Earth
Long story short, Gail is awesome. Fun fact, she’s also Canadian and LOVES maple syrup intensely. This greatly benefitted one of my beloved clients, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, representing producers of most of the world’s pure maple syrup, maple products, and most recently, maple water (yum).
After sharing a maple latte with Gail last year in a little café in the West Village, she dropped me a line to let me know a maple miracle was happening. She and her lovely (also Canadian) co-host, Hugh Acheson decided to base their entire Top Chef Quick Fire demo at the Classic around delicious dishes and drinks using pure maple syrup (the real stuff) from Canada, just because they totally love the stuff. I’ve represented a lot of beautiful products with heritage worth supporting, and can attest this never happens.
From Hugh’s maple duck dish to Gail’s maple tarte tatin and maple whisky cocktail, we were in maple heaven! Out of the goodness of her heart, Gail allowed us to gift attendees with a little #ilovemaple sample of the world’s greatest, natural sweetener. Literally a PR dream and, I know, a once-in-a-lifetime sort of scenario. Thanks again, Gail.
2. Celebrity chefs all know each other, and they are a total blast
Aspen is a small town, and it is almost impossible not to run into the who’s who of the food world while attending the Classic. They were EVERYWHERE.
The encounter I was most overwhelmed by was Jacques Pépin, and he was incredibly sweet and charming. We rode the elevator together at the St. Regis and he seemed sincerely interested in my story. JACQUES FLIPPING PEPIN, PEOPLE!
From there, the selfies and hugs overflowed from Gail, Hugh, Andrew Zimmern, Marcus Samuelsson (I sincerely apologize for accosting you on the coffee line, Marcus), Johnny Iuzzini (love a man who can bake!), Drew Barrymore, John Salley (NBA Champion, sports talk show host and — here’s a bit of trivia — a proud, nearly 7-foot vegan), Food & Wine EIC Dana Cowin, Top Chef “Hootie Hoo!” Carla Hall, P!nk (yes, that Pink), beautiful Tamron Hall of the TODAY show, and the list goes on. The chefs all attend each other’s demos and spend time high fiving and taking selfies afterwards. Clearly, they’re celebrity chefs with cookbooks and shows, but they’re mostly fun, friendly and looking for a good time around food. It was surreal to be in the mix!
3. Foodies LOVE snow cones
In creating the Pure Canada Maple booth, we wanted to offer something that played on Canadian tradition, but highlighted the versatility of our liquid gold. Maple taffy, or Tire sur la neige, is a Canadian childhood staple, made by warming real maple syrup and then pouring the thickened syrup over fresh snow. We thought this was ideal given Aspen was our host, but it was June, and we needed to figure out a simple way to create snow without the need for a massive freezer. Brilliance struck! Snow cones.
We prepared traditional maple taffy topped snow cones, but also Frozen Tap & Gingers, an adult tipple incorporating another client, TAP 357 Canadian rye whisky infused with pure maple syrup from Canada, and chilled Crabbies Ginger Beer poured over ice. Heaven in a snow cone cup, and needless to say, we were a huge hit. The lovely Gail was even kind enough to post a picture of our frozen treat on her Instagram page, which Food & Wine’s Instagram quickly reposted. Amazing!
If you haven’t experienced the Aspen Classic yet, I definitely recommend a trip either for work or pleasure. It’s like walking around a Food Network set, except looking out on Ajax Mountain.
Photo Credits: Food & Wine, Gail Simmons, Rachel Barbarotta and Aspen Times.