For 37 years, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen has gathered the world's top culinary talent to celebrate food, wine, and hospitality in a small but glamorous mountain town. While much has changed over the decades, so much hasn't: hallmarks of the festival still include panoramic gondala rides up to the top of Aspen Mountain, afterparties with Champagne magnums and giant caviar tins, star chefs roaming the streets, and, of course, a slight breathlessness from the high altitude.
At the 2019 Food & Wine Classic, which took place from June 13 to 16, a slew of high-profile newcomers joined the festivities. NBA legend Dwyane Wade, who launched Wade Cellars in 2014, poured his favorite wines under the Grand Tasting tent, posing for selfies with the hundreds of fans, and turned heads at the Top of the Mountain party. This was also Martha Stewart's first year at the Classic; she hosted a boozy morning seminar on clam bakes and summer entertaining.
"When I cook lobsters, I always add a cup of vodka," she told the sold-out crowd. "If you were going to be boiled alive, you'd want to have a drink also." She proceeded to construct an elaborate seafood feast, strawberry-topped biscuit cake, and somehow-controversial-now Aperol spritzs. ("I think they're really good drinks. Get good prosecco. There's not only cheapo prosecco.")
Another memorable seminar was the conversation between Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Hunter Lewis and food writer Ruth Reichl, whose new memoir Save Me the Plums chronicles the final era of Gourmet and the closing of the magazine. Like Stewart and Wade, Reichl was enjoying her very first Classic.
"I've always wanted to go to Aspen, but of course, it was run by th enemy, so I could never come," said Reichl with a laugh. In her conversation with Lewis, the author opened up about the writing process ("it's awful"), her infamous Twitter pose poems, her love of breakfast, and her time as the restaurant critic for the L.A. Times, where she eventually hired the late Jonathan Gold.
"The first thing we did was get Jonathan to write a restaurant column," she said. "It was eye-opening for people in L.A. He was introducing the city to itself. And the sort of people who would have never gone to a taco stand, never eaten a bowl of tofu in Koreatown, were going to these restaurants. For us, it was a real sign of how important food coverage can be."
This year also marked the 30th anniversary of the American Express's Restaurant Trade Program at the Food & Wine Classic. The series of panels, which deal with the biggest issues facing the hospitality industry, were packed with leaders from all corners of the restaurant world, from Eleven Madison Park restaurateur Will Guidara to Compère Lapin chef Nina Compton. In one session called "Legacy: Meet the Masters," Carla Hall asked a panel of chefs and restaurateurs how they dealt with failures in their careers—and what recovery looked like to them.
"My old boss and mentor Danny Meyer, one of his things was that 'the road to success is paved with mistakes well-handled,'" said Guidara. "Our biggest restaurants are the ones that started out having the worst experiences. You're not doing what we do unless theres some profound and unreasonable competitiveness with you. When you stumble and when you fall, that makes you want to get up and try harder even to succeed."