10 Hot Topics from Aspen Food & Wine Classic 2018

As the temperatures have been in the triple digits here in Arizona, I wanted to turn my attention to what was hot at the 2018 Aspen Food & Wine Classic.  It was my sixth year to attend, and each year is just as fun as the previous, if not more.  While it is difficult to narrow it down to just 10 Hot Topics, I have read that 10 is the best number to use in blog titles.  Apparently, the number 10 stands out against all the other text, and the reader knows what they are getting themselves into.  So now that you know what you are getting yourself into, pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of wine, and settle in to read my top 10!!  xoM

When you have been cooking for 70 years, like Jacques Pépin, kitchen utensils are optional.

Pépin got his first apprenticeship at the age of 13 and now, at 82 years young, still rocks it in the kitchen.  In his latest cookbook, A Grandfather’s Lessons: In The Kitchen with Shorey, Pépin, alongside his granddaughter, demonstrates some recipes that are simple, fun and elegant.  At Food & Wine, accompanied by his daughter, Claudine, he prepared a beautiful brunch of deviled eggs, sautéed spinach and Arctic char.  So effortlessly, he can perfectly hard boil eggs, saber champagne, expertly mince garlic and sauté fish, all in about 10 minutes.  Oh, and he doesn’t use many kitchen utensils.  Spatula?  Who needs one?  It’s possible he may not have any nerves left in his hands LOL.  Nonetheless, he can do no wrong.  We love you, Jacques!

Who needs utensils when you have hands as tough as steel?

Did you know that to find out if an egg is properly hard boiled, it will spin properly, instead of wobble?

Jacques Pépin with daughter, Claudine.

Tiki is having a moment.

Patrón Tequila always has an eye-catching display with great drinks, but they really knocked it out of the ballpark this year with their tiki hut, popsicles and drinks.  Showcasing their premium tequilas with their triple sec-like liqueur called Citrónge, Patron once again proved that their cocktails would be a hit at any kind of fiesta.  Definitely try one or all of these at home:

Patrón Tiki Rita:  Patrón Reposado, Patrón Citrónge Orange, fresh lime juice, fresh grapefruit juice, vanilla syrup, allspice dram, nutmeg, Hawaiian salt rim.

Jalisco Havoc:  Patrón Añejo, Patrón Citrónge Pineapple, orange juice, pineapple juice, simple syrup.

Paloma Tonic:  Patrón Silver, tonic water, grapefruit juice, fresh lime juice, agave nectar.

Patrón Tequila’s tiki hut display at the 2018 Aspen Food & Wine Classic.

The Tiki-sicles at the Patrón booth were a big draw.

Strawberry flavored Tiki-sicles packed a punch with Patrón Silver Tequila and Patrón Citrónge Orange.

The best party favors were these adorable Tiki cups. I waited in line 4x before I finally got my hands on one (they kept running out, which one could argue was the biggest party foul of the Classic).



Uni, the Japanese word for sea urchin, may not be the first thing that comes to mind to serve when you are hosting a dinner party.  But the popularity for this buttery seafood specialty is soaring in many restaurants, with some of the best uni in the world coming from the coastal shores of California.  Tyler Florence showed us a documentary his company produced about uni harvesting and processing in his adopted home of Mendocino County.  He also had many samples on hand and incorporated the urchin in a light Summer Corn Custard that would be perfect on its own for any dinner party.

Summer Corn Custard: Preheat oven to 320 degrees (Fahrenheit).  Sauté 1 T. olive oil, 1 cup fresh corn kernels, 1 chopped shallot, 1 teaspoon each of sugar and salt in a medium sauté pan.  In another pan, heat 2 cups of heavy cream until temperature reaches 180 degrees.  Place 6 eggs in a blender on the lowest setting and slowly add the hot cream.  Turn off the blender and add the corn mixture.  Place the top back on the blender and purée the mixture until smooth.  Next, pass the contents of the blender through a fine-mesh strainer.  Discard what is left in the strainer.  Pour the strained mixture into four or six 8-ounce ramekins.  Place the ramekins in a shallow 2-inch pan, and fill with water halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the custard jiggles when tapped on the side.

What do you suppose the motivation was behind the first person who tried sea urchin?

Tyler Florence has to be one of the nicest chefs I have had the pleasure of meeting at the Classic.

Passing the custard through a fine mesh strainer.

He baked the custard in the uni shells and finished them with caviar and fresh uni.

Richard Blais can make Pringles chips topped with caviar levitate.

Richard Blais blinding us with science in making the Pringles chip levitate.

Plus, he makes a mess preparing chilled pea consommé (picture explosions and dry ice).  This is all to be expected from a student of Thomas Keller and Ferran Adrià.  Blais, a native New Yorker-cum-Southerner, is a winner of Top Chef All-Stars, a regular on the Food Network, a James Beard Award nominated cookbook author, and a restauranteur of such concepts as Flip Burger Boutique in Atlanta and Juniper & Ivy in San Diego.  Blais pulled together many eye-popping recipes for the Food & Wine crowd, including the mouthwatering Breakfast Blais Burger, which is a Juicy Lucy beef patty served on French toast brioche buns that is topped with caramelized onions, a fried egg and sausage-milk gravy.  Holy Moly.  A heart-attack-on-a-plate never looked so good!

What is a Juicy Lucy beef patty, you may ask?  Check out his recipe: Mix together 8 ounces ground short rib, 1 pound ground brisket, 8 ounces ground chuck, 1/2 cup dry aged beef fat, salt and pepper.  Shape into 8 1-inch patties.  Cut 1 slice of American cheese into 4 squares and put a cheese square between two patties.  Press the edges of the patties to seal them.

Richard Blais clearly enjoys what he does.

Add a little Kimchi Ketchup to that burger and create ooey gooey goodness!

As if it wasn’t good enough already, Blais adds a little smokey flavor to the burger and onion rings.

Speaking of caviar, American caviar was everywhere.

I already mentioned Richard Blais served it with Pringles, Jacques capped his deviled eggs with it, Tyler topped his uni custard with it, and in the Grand Tasting Tent, an American caviar display, Sterling Caviar, was conveniently located next to the Ca’Del Bosco Italian sparkling wine.  Domestic caviar from the American white sturgeon, native to the American Northwest, is similar in quality and flavor to the Caspian Sevruga caviar.  Sterling Caviar is a family-owned, Sacramento based company that is the leading producer of domestic caviar.  You can order online here.

Tim Love makes a mean vegetarian meal.

Yes, the chef behind the meat-centric restaurants, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Woodshed Smokehouse, Queenie’s Steakhouse and White Elephant Saloon, was inspired by a recent trip to Italy and “scrapped all the shit” he was going to do in order to demonstrate Spaghetti alle Zucchine, a dish that sounds so good, I cannot wait to try at home.  Chef Love served the dish with Bistecca alla Fiorentina and, as is his tradition, ended the class with the lively tequila shot roulette.

Tim Love’s Spaghetti alle Zucchine: Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a skillet.  Lightly sauté several crushed cloves of garlic until just beginning to color.  Remove garlic and set aside.  Add sliced disks of zucchini. Season with salt and pepper, and cook over high heat, turning the zucchini slices from time to time to ensure even cooking, until they have browned.  Meanwhile, get your pasta on the boil and, when it’s al dente, pull pasta out of pot with tongs, thereby reserving the starchy pasta liquid.  Set pasta aside in a bowl.  Put browned zucchini in blender and purée, slowly adding some of the starched water from the pasta until desired consistency.   Pour zucchini sauce over pasta. Add copious amount of Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.  Top with garlic crisps and herbs, such as minced parsley.

Tim Love’s Tequila Shot Roulette: I would not spoil it for you, but you don’t want to be the girl in the blue jean jacket.

Chocolate for desert should be served with port, not red wine.

And if you attended Mark Oldman’s, Wines for Gazillionaires, it would not have been any old port, but a 1957 Kopke Colheita port (a $300 bottle).  And not any old chocolate, but M&M’s, a couple of which said Gazillion on them.  Dressed as AC/DC rocker, Angus Young, Oldman entertained with champagne sabering, wine bongs and his many nuggets of wisdom about wine. My favorite?  It is totally acceptable to swirl champagne like wine.  But, will the bubbles dissipate?  “Not, if you drink fast enough.”  I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, it is just about the most fun you will have in 45 minutes.

Vintage port paired with M&M’s are a match made in heaven.

Mark Oldman dressed as AC/DC rocker Angus Young. I admit that my husband has that same outfit from Halloween a few years back. Great minds…

Geoduck is pronounced “gooey duck”, and is a species of a very large saltwater clam.

How large?  About 6 to 8 inches in length.  And it happens to be my favorite tasting from the Grand Tasting this year.  By Chef Jonathan Yao of Kate in Los Angeles, his Drunken Geoduck was a simple and delicious presentation.

Chef Jonathan Yao from Kate in Los Angeles.

Jonathan Yao’s Drunken Geoduck.

I would like to add photos of my honorable mentions from the tasting tent, which include dishes from more of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs, Katianna Hong (The Charter Oak in St. Helena, CA) and Kate Williams (Lady of the House, Detroit) plus a few from Aria Las Vegas (includes Bardot Brasserie and Jean Georges Steakhouse), which is quickly becoming one of my favorite tasting displays of the Grand Tasting.  I will never forget the year I was casually walking through the line to try a Mimolette Mac’n’Cheese and I looked up to say thank you only to find I was facing Michael Mina.  With whom did I come face to face this year?  Read on…

Chorizo Bolognese with new crop potatoes from Katianna Hong of The Chartered Oak in St. Helena.

Lamb Tartare Detroit Coney from Kate Williams at Lady of the House.

A simple mozzarella and tomato salad from the Aria, and the mozzarella was pulled on-site, which was fun to watch.

The famous Bread Pudding with Orgeat Syrup from Michael Mina’s Bardot Brasserie in the Aria hotel, Las Vegas.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten is not a mythical human…he does exist.

I saw him with my own eyes.  With an empire of over 35 restaurants in the world, this Frenchman is a legend, and frankly, I wasn’t sure if he was for real.  But, I saw him with my own eyes.  Jean-Georges is known for his French cuisine with an Asian accent, and has 11 restaurants in NYC (Jean-Georges, ABC Kitchen, Jojo, The Mark) with others spread from Japan to Cabo San Lucas.  Last year, he ventured into the Southern Hemisphere, opening Tangará in São Paolo, Brazil.  I have got to make my way there to try his version of Baked Alaska using the whole passion fruit (maracujá), using the shell as a bowl to present a cream topped with browned meringue.  Sim, por favor!

Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Lodi is California’s best kept secret.

Wines from Lodi, California, held a prominent spot in the tasting tent at Food & Wine this year.  Located between San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevadas, the wine region of Lodi is twice the size of that of Napa. You are probably drinking Lodi wines and don’t even realize it.  Ravenswood, Woodbridge, and Sebastiani have all sourced grapes from Lodi’s 100,000 acres of wine grapes for years. While Zinfandel has been the most widely planted grape in the region, word is quickly spreading about their exciting varietals, such as their tasty Albariños, Tempranillos, and Vermentinos.  With more than 100 different varieties of grapes currently in cultivation, it is no surprise that Lodi was voted Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Region of the Year in 2015.  All of this talk should be making you thirsty, especially if you didn’t take my advice in the beginning.  So, what are you waiting for?  Uncork a bottle and enjoy the evening…but save that cork!  For with enough wine corks, you too can make a wine cork wall to rival this one…Salut!

All photos by Marci Symington for texAZtaste.com.

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  • John Finley

    Another GREAT blog!!! Bravo!!!

    PS We’re in Paris this week, and more than once I’ve wished you were here. Best surprise so far…a perfect meal at Le Chateaubriand.

    • TexazTaste

      Thank you! It would be amazing to be in Paris with ya’ll! I will remember your restaurant recommendation and hope you are having great weather! xoxo

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