Aspen festival attracts foodies

They come for the food, the wine and the wisdom.

“A young chef adds and adds to the plate. As you get older, you start to take away,” said French-born chef Jacques Pepin, author of more than 20 cookbooks and celebrated host of more than 300 television cooking shows.

The audience of loyal fans for Pepin’s cooking class with daughter Claudine filled a ballroom at the St. Regis Hotel, just one of many culinary seminars featured at the 34th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo.

Assisting her father in making a vinaigrette salad dressing, Claudine Pepin advised, “Use a really good olive oil. You know, the one you’re saving because it’s too good to use everyday? Well, throw that away because it’s rancid now and go buy a new one.”

More than 5,000 people attend the festival to meet top chefs and wine makers from around the world. Spirits have taken a more central role with rising interest in cocktails. Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem, N.Y., created food pairings, including pork ribs with ginger and peach, to match sips of Glenmorangie single malt scotch and a citrus-infused whiskey cocktail.

“Summertime is barbecue time, and the spiciness goes with the sweetness and smokiness of the Scotch whisky,” Samuelsson said.

New heights of taste, health

Aspen’s chefs put on a show when their Rocky Mountains town fills up with foodies.

“They literally eat it up,” said Matthew Zubrod, executive chef of the Little Nell Hotel. “It’s a cool crowd who ask really good questions about food.”

Zubrod’s menu features plates as pretty as the Aspen scenery, garnished with fresh herbs and edible flowers grown steps away from the tables. Just as the mountain air requires adding a layer of clothing, Zubrod layers vibrant flavors in dishes. “I like to do a layer of pureed, then cooked and then raw of the same ingredient, such as peas, corn or artichoke.”

Wellness was the focus of a panel led by Food & Wine Magazine Editor-in-Chief Nilou Motamed, who noted, “I think in the last 10 years the conversation has moved from a message of moderation to questions about where our food is coming from.”

Octogenarian Jacques Pepin replied, “It can go too far if we wonder where every carrot is from. I’m not a doctor, but my best advice is to finish your food.”