Every person in town has a recommendation for how to handle Food & Wine weekend. From staying away from it all to being the “it” girl who makes it into every single party, everyone has their tricks. The best way I can describe my recommendation is to say go twice. Here’s the thing: What the Food & Wine Classic is to locals and pass holders runs the gamut from an annual epic hangover to a thrilling game of dodge-a-tourist on your WE-Cycle. But to the exhibitors, chefs, presenters and volunteers who collectively pull this festival off, it’s a family reunion. And inherently, to get that reunion vibe, you need to go at least twice.
On that second tour of the Grand Tasting Tent, you’ll start to recognize faces and favorites. The person you talked to one year about their cricket-chocolate (it’s what it sounds like) is there the very next year to feed you some more of their crunchy sweetness. The session you sat in on about pulling off the perfect dinner party has been updated to include the perfect pre-made desert. You pick up right where you left off, without any of the small talk, just like any good friendship.
This year will be an especially expressive moment for the Food & Wine family. With the loss of Anthony Bourdain last week, many of the decades-long attendees will be turning to this family reunion as a way to share stories and laughs about their longtime friend, surrounded by the support of others who have also lived the ups and downs of industry life. Festival producer Devin Padgett says there will be a fitting tribute to the chef over the weekend. He says the devastating loss has put a gray filter on the festivities this year. But just like a loss in any family, this is the time to come together with loved ones. This year’s trek to the top of the Rockies will be a time for a celebration of life through an appreciation of fine spirits and cuisine.
The culinary conference is not just a reunion for the presenters; there are locals who have volunteered every one of the 36 years of the festival. Seeing their faces year in and year out is a welcome site that Padgett takes the time to recognize during the intense planning meetings leading up to the high-profile weekend. And that dedication can’t be contained within the tent. As the de facto launch to summer in Aspen, Food & Wine weekend is a reunion even for those who live in town year round but disperse to their different offseason hideouts during the months of April and May. Along with the clinking of glasses and rooftop dance music, town becomes filled with the sound of friends bumping into each other on the walking malls, stopping for hugs and catching up.
Sure, every year has one or two new elements. This year, for instance, beer is coming into its own as a legitimate part of the Food & Wine Classic through several seminars throughout the weekend and a stronger presence within the Grand Tasting Pavilion. But a lot of the beauty for the iconic celebration that is heading over the hill is its consistency. Padgett has been producing the festival long enough that he now calls it a well-oiled machine. There doesn’t need to be stunts and frills when the true magic of the weekend comes from a family coming together, toasting their own and preparing for another innovative year in culinary creativity, paired with plenty of classic corks.