10:00 am: Rock star Chef Thomas Keller draws a huge crowd for his ‘World’s Best Preserves’ cooking demo but these aren’t jam jars for a county fair. Mushroom conserva, olive and sweet onion tapenade, and cured lemons—all from the acclaimed Ad Hoc at Home cookbook—come together quickly and easily before being turned into sauces, sides and vinaigrettes. Keller explains as he goes and waxes eloquently about the need for salt to season food, making no bones about his disdain for pepper or for those who would limit salt use in restaurant kitchens. “Cooking is about you, not me,” he tells the audience. “Anybody can be a better cook if you want to.”
10:15 am: At his ‘Comfort Foods Lite’ demo, Chef Art Smith quickly warms the crowd with his southern charm and the genuine pride he feels in his recent and impressive weight loss (100 pounds last year!). With talk of finding your ‘happy place’ through healthy eating, it’s no surprise he used to be Oprah Winfrey’s private chef. Smith is an inspiration for anyone interested in food, love, and empowerment. Smith’s parting words of wisdom: ‘Water and oatmeal will set you free.’
12:00 pm: John Besh pairs with Master Beer Sommelier Marc Stroobandt for a poolside crawfish fest to showcase Louisiana’s treasures (Chef Besh surely among them). Crawfish in bisque? In batter? En gelée? Laissez les bon temps roulez! Besh’s new TLC series “Inedible to Incredible” premiers Monday and promises to teach any unskilled but well-intentioned home chef how to take their meals to the next level. We’re guessing there won’t be quite as many crustaceans, but we’ll be watching nonetheless.
2:00 pm: At Korean Marinades for BBQ, David Chang demonstrates a Korean ‘mother sauce’ marinade and how to simply sous vide beef, pickle vegetables (or his favorite: watermelon rind) and sauté iceberg lettuce (who knew?). More subdued than we expected given this chef’s bad-boy reputation, Chang finally admits he’s coming off a late night (but in Aspen, who isn’t?). Chang perks up, though, when a woman in the crowd asks if his sous-vide beef could be considered ‘boil-in-a-bag.’ “It is like boil-in-a-bag,” Chang agrees. “We call it ghetto sous-vide.”
2:00 pm: The reserve wine tasting, Spain’s Prince of Priorat: Alvaro Palacios, features 13 incredible wines and one awe-inspiring winemaker. Palacios was born into a Rioja family but struck out on his own “to make wine on the moon, in uncharted territory” according to panelist Bruce Schoenfeld, wine editor for Travel + Leisure magazine. His father’s death drew him back to Rioja, where his family begged him to save the family property and make the wines all they could be. He has clearly succeeded. His La Montessa Rioja, Les Terrasses Priorato, and La Faraona Bierzo are among the many crowd favorites. But so is the passionate and charming Palacios. “It’s not just about physics,” Palacios says of making wine. “It’s about how you feel, your inspiration, how you feel when you drink it.”
3:30 pm: Masaharu Morimoto charges into the St. Regis for his ‘Japanese Knife Techniques’ demo like it’s Kitchen Stadium and he’s preparing for Samurai battle. Getting right to work,he fillets a half dozen fish so deftly that the audience gasps before erupting with applause. Over the next hour, Morimoto builds an Ikebana of sushi and vegetables formed into flowers, pine trees, and sailboats. He’s explaining the importance of balance, texture, color, and beauty when suddenly the overhead lights go out. Without missing a beat, Morimoto continues to bone tiny fish with a not-so-tiny knife as his sous chef quips, “It’s Morimoto after dark.” When the lights finally come back on, a grinning Morimoto demands that the audience rate his knife skills. “A one?” he asks, holding up a paddle bearing the number one. “A five?” Another paddle. “Or a ten?” The crowd’s cheering almost drowns out the sound of Chef Morimoto’s delighted laughter. Almost.
4:00 pm: We score an invite to the Texas Outlaws Ride Again party, which got its start years ago thanks to Texas restaurant PR honcho Jeffrey Yarbrough. Denied in his bid to organize a regular F&W; Classic event that would celebrate Texas food and wine, Yarbrough went renegade and the Outlaws party at Kenichi restaurant was born. This year, chefs serve up sushi (while wearing whites embroidered with the word ‘PORK’), while wait staff pass pork lettuce wraps, sweet onion and jalapeño tempura, pork sliders and carmelized-onion-and-ricotta canapés. Our restraint (we had some, right?) is sorely tested. It fails miserably.
7:30 pm: Dinner at Ajax Tavern and despite the array of foods we’ve eaten today, our stomachs are growling. There’s no turning down their show-stopping Truffle Fries, so why bother trying? They exceed our expectations, as does the grass-fed beef double cheeseburger. But when Giada De Laurentiss sits down at the next table, even we start to lose interest in the food. She, by the way, manages to live without the Truffle Fries. Is this why she has a Food Network show and we don’t?
Tune in to see if we wake up hungry on Day 2 of the Aspen Food & Wine Classic.