Deep Dish (and other Horrid Puns) on Aspen Food and Wine Classic 2014 PART 2. Day 44 of 100 Days of Writing

I’ve labored over framing the Aspen Food and Wine Festival. I spent unfortunate blocks of time trying to be cuteclever: Game of Thrones parody? Can’t really be done because I didn’t see any cutthroat behaviors among the chefs (although I was not privvy to all the industry parties, so I’m sure it’s possible that Nicholas Elmi put Nina Compton’s head on a stake at some rockin’ after-hours event at the St. Regis Hotel. I’m not saying he actually beheaded her, but I didn’t see her and there were some “mystery meat” dishes served up during my time there. And, you know, wine.)
And with that you can see why I didn’t go down that rabbit hole.
I’ve done so many parodies in my day that not even writing up my thoughts in Dr. Seussian verse interested me. And trust me, I tried. You should have seen my verse about pickled radishes. (Hint: the couplet ended with caddishes. Ever the clever one, me.)
It seems for now random thoughts suffice. They always do, as organization and structure are lost to summer days and picnics and trying to deforest my legs before cramming them into my Old Navy shorts while fantasizing about Amy Poehler eviting me to her 4th of July party, because you know there would be really great (illegal) fireworks and flag cake and probably beer and she would ALWAYS offer up those bug repellant bracelets to her outdoor parties because she’s just considerate that way.

So, in a particular order:

Aspen is the perfect destination for chronic overpackers like myself.  For a five day trip, two of them travel days, I brought 8,329 outfits. I mean, weather happens, as do snags, sitting on cacti, clawings, mawlings, Sharpies, paintball flashmobs, and my underwire setting off security at O’Hare airport requiring a pat-down from a security agent who did a subpar job washing her hands after eating a Chicago dog with Day-Glo relish.  However, due to the glorious Aspen weather being, much like the sriracha aioli on my white jeans — all over the place — I had only one unworn outfit upon my return.  So other than my bathing suit, layers were worn. Our early morning hikes had me in running pants and sweatshirt. And yes, I’m fine, thankyouverymuch 70-something fitbot in Under Armour sprinting past me as I was doubled over after three minutes of lugging my ass up some sort of rocky crag.  I think it was a crag. I don’t know. I’m originally from Jersey. We use “Crag” as a way to describe yo mama. Anyway, I’ll be over here spitting out my spleen. You go on ahead.

But yeah, shoes. I listened. Flats only, except for the one pair of kitten heels for the one party we went to. Many of the streets are cobblestone in Aspen. Couple that with dehydration, drinking, and a very high dog population, and heels are quick ticket to disaster. The cobblestone was gorgeous, of course, and made downtown Aspen look even more like a movie set than the high-contrast mountain/blue sky scenery, but I do wonder how the many cyclists like it. Or the high people. Because Colorado. I’m guessing those who are buzzed on the weed know enough to stick to orthopedics. Besides, who the hell is looking at my shoes? Certainly not the 99% of the women who were dressed in maxi dresses (bonus points for chevron pattern) and summer scarves (also chevron pattern). They were too busy dizzying up the place what with their arrows and their patterns and their effortless chic.

Have I mentioned my sriracha pants?

The Food and Wine Classic has the best behaved crowds I’ve ever been in. Part of the F&WC ticket price for the events includes “Line Standing,” and you get what you pay for. Let it be sung from the flat top that everyone should get a Participant! ribbon for standing in line so nicely. There was no cutting, no bitching and moaning (not even from me, a noted line-hater), and often, there was tolerable chit-chat with other line standers. St. Peter would be proud. This was, I should note, before people were drinking the Wine or eating the Food! As someone who has witnessed nearly inhuman acts in other Lines, including the great “I’ll Cut You!” incident at a Chicago Currency Exchange the day before the price of parking stickers increased back in 2004, I can only explain this as either witchcraft or people assuming a long line meant there was something worth waiting for. And there usually was.

Lines weren’t intolerable. In fact, the longest line we were in (time-wise) was for coffee at Ink! each morning.  For about 15 minutes on our first morning, we enjoyed some gentle ribbing from some locals who appreciated our dweebing it up by wearing our OFFICIAL FOOD AND WINE CONSUMER LANYARDS! to get coffee. At a store. A store which was in no way a part of the Classic.  But the coffee was awesome, the locals appreciated that we didn’t hightail it to the Starbucks across the street (support local business) and the whole time I didn’t realize that the man in front of us trying very hard to ignore us (or actually ignoring us) was Tom Colicchio.  My husband later gave me a D- for not realizing T.C. was like three inches from my face, and husband rightfully questioned my super-drooling foodie status. I gave him (my husband) an A+ for not doing his usual “Let’s embarrass the wife” schtick and screaming “TOM COLICCHIO! MY WIFE WANTS TO CARESS YOU WITH A SPATULA, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN!” And no one would have known what he meant, including me, but it would have sucked and my husband would be telling that story for years to everyone.  I also gave Tom Colicchio an A+ because goddamn it, he deserves it and I don’t give those out to just anyone and he was unshaven and wearing a baseball cap and drinking local coffee and ignoring me completely.  Good job, Tom!

“Celebrity” chefs abound. And I think that term needs to die slow death at 275 degrees for 4-5 hours.  Before our first demonstration/lecture/official Line Up (so, all within the first 45 minutes after we hiked), we saw not only behatted Mr. Colicchio, but also Richard Blais, and my next husband fantasy boyfriend, Johnny Iuzzini — all of whom ignored me, the cheeky devils.  The world of modern celebrity is a world of smoke, mirrors, bronzing powder, important conversations and near-absolute emptiness.  There was little of that evident.  These were not the Beautiful Ones keeping a charming distance from the rest of us, cloying hoping we stay away while staying interested. For the most part, these chefs were passionate professionals who seems to either be caught a little off guard or highly bemused by their rock star status this weekend.  I believe it was Alton Brown (who I did not see. Was he even there? Was he ignoring me, too?) who noted that celebrity for chefs is a weird thing…that they are rock stars to about 1% of the population, but most of the time they’re just doing their thing like the rest of us. That is a horrible misquote, but the sentiment sticks. It’s entirely possible he didn’t say that and I’m hallucinating after trying to suck the sriracha out of my white jeans. But he may have said it. Someone find the quote for me. I’m on a saucy vision quest.

All of this is to say there seemed to be very little Important People v. hoi polloi going on. In fact, I was rather surprised at seeing chefs just kind of wandering around. I mean, if there is anyplace that they are going to get harrangued for an autograph, a picture, or a request for a Bobby Flay-esque Throw Down (Rice Krispie Treats!), it’s here.  But, as mentioned, we were well behaved participants who stood in line nicely. I did gawk awkwardly and unattractively. That’s for the next post.

There were certainly celebrity moments.  Security guards kept us from rushing the stage after the epic guitar solo at the end of “Sensational Sips for Sushi” and forbade the formation of mosh pits during Ali Larter’s Q&A with Giada DeLaurentis. And there were book signings and photo ops, undertaken by the dorkiest of us:

Me, dork on the right. Husband, dork on the left. We flank the lovely Hugh Acheson for his millionth and most important photo of the day.
The dorkiest of all on the right. We flank the lovely Hugh Acheson for his millionth and most important photo of the day. I don’t know whose wine that is. Possibly mine. It would explain my expression and my bangs.
Me : OhmygodIloveyou! Marcus: Hey! Hi! Awesome! I totally dig your ironic bangs! Have some more wine! Husband: I’m here, too!

I never understood the whole “take a picture with a celebrity” thing. It’s not like they ask me to send them a copy of the photo. That would be something, though. Carla Hall seems like she might decoupage the shit out of a tasteful crypt using photos she’s taken with her fans.  And don’t think the photo of me and Johnny Iuzzini won’t be my Christmas card this year, to my family’s utter chagrin/confusion. (I’ll share the photo in the next installment.)

Oh, there is manly, musky chefly competition throughout, and also unmistakeable fangeeking at every turn. An Anthony Bourdain sighting was nearly cause for smelling salts in one Line (for Michael Chiarello’s Meatball Tutorial, which looks really dirty now that I type it), but it led to once-strangers joining in a lively discussion about James Beard, how television affects the restaurant industry, Kitchen Confidential, the “next great flavor” why “Asian food” is a ignorant label, and whether the expression “elevating food” is one that should be permanently eliminated from any self-respecting food lover’s vocabulary. (See also: Sandra Lee).  And then there were meatballs and Chiarello’s smackdown of Monsanto.

I had found my tribe, and these passionate chefs were our chiefs and shamans bringing the magic and mysticism and science one 45-minute segment at a time.  While I don’t know that I would have enjoyed the hazing/hours/brutality of chef training, I do know that the social/ historical /scientific /artistic /economic / geopolitical mosaic of food, food preparation, and eating stir something almost prehistoric in me. It all resonated, especially when joyfully drummed by the masters.

I shall speak of them, the Greats, the Goods, the Interestings, and oh, yes, the Food and Wine in my next post…

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