Sunday, June 20, 2010

Aspen Food and Wine Festival: So it Begins

I started the event out in an inauspicious way, waiting in the wrong line.  After correcting that minor error in judgement, due to a really bad night's sleep(or so I can keep telling myself), the event began in earnest.  the first demo I attended was by the Chef Thomas Keller.  His entrance into a room does not generate nervous energy, it produces a silent awe.  He demoed three recipes from his cook book "Ad Hoc at Home."  Well, the current chef at Ad Hoc in Yountville and an ex-sous chef from Ad Hoc did the demoing, Chef Keller handled the edification.  He reiterated some of his favorite themes: learn good techniques, get good tools, get great ingredients.  One really interesting topic he espoused on was the difference between seasoning and flavoring.  Seasoning enhances the flavors that the ingredients themselves have.  Salt and acid are the two main vehicles to achieve this.  If you can taste the salt and/or the acid you are no longer seasoning, you are flavoring.  Under this way of thinking pepper is never used in seasoning, only in flavoring.  He made sure to drive this point home in several humorous exchanges with the audience.

Next on the agenda was to enter the cornucopia of chaos, The Grand Tasting.  All I could say was wow and I am so glad my pass allowed me early access.  Walking past the blocks of eager foodies ready to snap their jaws shut on whatever in on offer,  I felt a wave of relief flow through my body.  I would have about 45 minutes to make my way around the tasting while it was much less crowded.  There was not much food on offer, but what was there was extraordinary.  One standout was Blackberry Farms from Tennessee.  The salumi made by Michael Sullivan was some of the best I have tasted.  The man is passionate about his craft and it was entirely evident in his products.

The Grand Tasting Tent was awash in a sea of wine.  There were enough areas, varietals, and styles available to keep an oenophile busy for weeks.  I did not have weeks, so I just headed to what looked the most interesting.  I was not disappointed as I discovered some new areas and producers to explore further.  I really like the wines from the Alto Adige,  an area in northern Italy.  Those will receive some further exploring when I get home.

Mario Batali was next on the list.  He cooked some relatively easy dishes from Linguria.  He is very entertaining to watch.  So entertaining in fact that you learn some great things without even noticing.  Mario loves to impart his demoes with the whys and hows of Italian food culture and philosophy. This background gives the audience deeper insight into the whys and hows of Italian cooking.

Morimoto wowed the audiences with his nearly supernatural knife skills.  Cutting paper thin slices of daikon radish or butchering a fish faster than you can tie your shoes resulted in the sounds of hundreds of jaws hitting the ground in unison.

The evening was capped off by an Italian dinner put on by Amex.  The food created by the chef had a hard time competing with the wines presented by Sergio Esposito of the Italian Wine Merchants.  Sergio's discussion of the wines became more, shall we say, spirited, as the night went on.  Don't know what could have caused that, there were only like 7 wines poured with dinner.

The excellent company at the table capped off a stellar night as I made my way back to my hotel.  Those four blocks seemed to have gotten longer during dinner.  


Trix said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am not jealous of you!!! You know, I interviewed Morimoto at Nobu years ago for an article and he was SO sweet ... I love your photo of him!

Frank said...

Sounds and looks like a fantastic event. Keller's remarks about seasoning vs. flavoring are pure genius!

Janis said...

I can not tell you how jealous *I* AM! Looks like you had a wonderful time.