Top chefs and winemakers teach at Aspen Food Festival

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and author of “Southern Living: The Slim Down South Cookbook.” Email her at

What would you cook if you knew that 5,000 foodies were showing up to taste the best of the best during three days of cooking demonstrations and wine tastings in Aspen? Athens and Atlanta chef Hugh Acheson served a spicy chow chow with sorghum-brined pork while fellow Atlantan Richard Blais seared salmon with a side of porcini onion rings and kimchi ketchup.

In its 32nd year, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, dishes up over 80 cooking demos and wine seminars as the Rocky Mountain town becomes populated with celebrity chefs and the world’s best winemakers.

Lessons and laughter

Have a question about making the most delicious deviled eggs? Listen and learn as culinary icon chef Jacques Pepin seasons the yolks with finely chopped garlic and parsley then suggests serving them lukewarm right after boiling. Pepin says, “This is the best deviled egg you could possibly imagine.” Then referencing his old friend and cooking colleague Julia Child he keeps the audience laughing, “Of course, Julia would have said that it needs more salt!”

Need a tip for making better burgers? Chef Tyler Florence cautioned the crowd, “Don’t crush the ground meat. Make a ball, keep it fluffy and press it once when cooking.” He was emphatic about the downside of grill grates for burgers. “Grilling is not the way to go. You need a high heat on a hard surface so put a cast iron pan right on the grill,” says Florence. “Not to get too ‘inside baseball’ but you need browning from the Maillard Reaction when heat hits the proteins to get great color.”

Worlds of taste

International flavors are celebrated at the Classic, too. Bites of quinoa and ceviche from Peru were served with the country’s most famous cocktail — the pisco sour. A tasting of Argentinian malbecs from Familia Zuccardi of Mendoza demonstrated the subtle differences of wine from the same grape grown in different areas of their vineyards built on rocky alluvial soil at the base of the Andes Mountains. “The stones change in size from high to low parts of our vineyards so we have different soils and therefore different malbecs,” says wine maker Sebastian Zuccardi.

Chef Jose Andres known for his exemplary approach to Spanish cuisine with restaurants in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Miami and Los Angeles shared tapas secrets in his demo and the sublime pairing of what he calls “Jose’s Taco” – a slice of Spain’s prized Iberco ham topped with a dollop of American caviar. The height of good taste is more than just the altitude in Aspen.