The Food and Wine Classic in Aspen is three days away. Around town, businesses are preparing for one of the busiest weekends of the summer.
Large trucks and tractors closed off Monarch Street by Wagner Park this week, delivering everything from tent supplies to porta-potties for the upcoming festivities. Town has started to fill up again after a quiet spring offseason. All of the drinking and dining establishments have opened for the summer, in anticipation for the biggest foodie event of the season.
In the Grand Tasting Tent alone, there are more than 300 wineries and restaurants represented. That number doesn’t include the numerous parties, seminars and tastings that take place over the three days, which begs the question: How do local restaurants stand out?
Devin Padgett is Food & Wine’s producer of special projects. He said many businesses participate in the local restaurant program. This started five years ago to give Roaring Fork Valley dining establishments the opportunity to be under the tent for one of the five sessions. At the start there were only six to eight restaurants that participated. This year, there are more than 30.
“They don’t have to prep and staff and get ready for three full days,” Padgett said. “They can stick to their restaurant and feed the masses but also participate for one Grand Tasting here, with us.”
Some of the restaurants that will be in the tent for a Grand Tasting include Chef’s Club, La Creperie, Kenichi and Brunelleschi's.
Though others, especially newer ones, are perfecting their performance on the homestead.
Wendy Mitchell, the owner of Meat and Cheese and the new cocktail bar downstairs from the restaurant, Hooch, said she doesn’t have any particular strategies for standing out over the weekend. They just stick to what they are good at.
“We are in a great location. We have a beautiful patio and I think people want to come out,” Mitchell said. “... I think downstairs, the idea is just to provide a place for people to relax that’s not a disco. But it’s open late. It serves food late and it’s just reaching a few of the things that aren’t currently in the market.
Another establishment that opened less than a year ago is Aspen Kitchen. Head chef Matt O’Neill said they have some private late night parties planned for Friday and Saturday. They will also be opening the patio around 3 each day for people to enjoy. All of their events will be held at the restaurant since this is their first go around at Food & Wine. O’Neill said they may look into participating in the tent next year.
“We really wanted to keep the focus here, keep all of our chefs here and keep all of our staff in the building so that we give the best product at the restaurant,” O’Neill said. “And then maybe next year we will do something.”
So, whether it’s under the tent or on their own turf, local restaurateurs are gearing up for arguably the biggest weekend of the summer.