Being a vegetarian during Food & Wine is like shopping in Aspen: there are a lot of nice things to look at but you know you can’t have them.
Technically, I’m a pescatarian, and that makes it a little easier to navigate the gourmand festival, but the truth is it’s much easier to drink and dessert your way through it.
On Sunday, I ran into a friend in the Grand Tasting tent and immediately directed her to two different dessert stations: mousse with a spicy crumble from a dessert bar opening in Denver this fall and the Patron cocoa ice cream cake in the courtyard. She looked at me a little oddly, tossed back some pinot noir, and asked if I had a sweets problem.
I just wanted to eat.
On Saturday night, long lines of well-heeled foodies filled the Sundeck, waiting at five stations each manned by a Best New Chef from the past 25 years. It was a party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the award, an honor that Food & Wine doles out to 10 emerging chefs throughout the country annually.
Everyone of them served a meat dish, except Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame, whose line snaked across the entire room while foodies waited to taste clams and shellfish from his ice bar.
I found myself in the dessert room, silently debating the merits of lemon lollipops and more chocolate crumpets.
After spending time at the Aspen 82 rooftop party at the Motherlode, I left bathed in the essence of bacon and Tender Belly pork, which sizzled on the grill all weekend long. At the Wines of Spain party on Thursday, an entire pig roast rotated on a spit. I skipped the Grand Cochon party at the Hotel Jerome entirely, knowing that 10 chefs competing for the King of Porc title was probably an event I could miss.
On Saturday, Aspen Daily News co-workers and I attended a seminar in the cooking tent called “Global Vegetarian.” It was the only lecture of the weekend that looked like it might lend itself to some green tips for non-meat-eaters. Celebrity chef Susan Feniger was a highly entertaining host, but her erratic lesson on Indian street food — which called for black salt from India and fresh tamarind among other things — didn’t make for practical vegetarian eating.
Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Dana Cowin hosted a TED-like talk in the Theatre Aspen tent on Friday morning called “The Chef & The Rancher.” Earlier in the week she told me that the panel would discuss people’s obsession with eating meat and being vegetarian, and how to make those two philosophies work.
Even though the country continues to realize that eating less meat and more greens is not only better for our bodies, but also for the environment, it seems that the leaders in the food world are slow to lead the charge. Meatless Mondays are sweeping the nation, and Mark Bittman’s VB6 (Vegan Before 6 o’clock) diet is creeping into daily conversations. Cowin said herself that “people are obsessed with vegetarianism,” but these so-called trends certainly weren’t reflected in the Food & Wine Classic schedule last weekend.
Maybe it’s a movement that’s going to be slow to take. But, if the chefs at the top can’t prove to the public that vegetarian food can be good and tasty, then how will the general, carnivorous public make the switch?
More vegetarian recipes in magazines! More meatless appetizers at parties! As consumers, we can demand it.
Until then, I’ll be in the corner eating chocolate and drinking wine.
Christine Benedetti realizes these are Aspen problems. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org