Since 1982, Food & Wine magazine has hosted the delectable Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado, every Father’s Day weekend, and if you’re fortunate enough to already have tickets to this year’s festival, well, we’ll try to contain our jealousy. The three-day foodie extravaganza admits over 5,000 visitors each year, but that’s not nearly as many as would like to attend. Tickets for this year’s June 20-22 event sold out in February, (nearly four months in advance!) in spite of ticket prices being $1,250 apiece. So if you’ve managed to secure your admission early, we’re not the only ones full of envy. Practically the whole foodie world is, too.
And to those of you who don’t have tickets to this year’s preeminent celebration of fine cuisine: read on, anyway. There are select events that are open to the public (with a fee, of course). And of course, life exists outside of the Food & Wine Classic (if a bit less deliciously). Wonderful Aspen adventures abound in early summer!
The festival itself takes place in various parks and hotels throughout the town in a somewhat decentralized manner, so you have your pick of accommodation. The Grand Tasting Pavilion, home to five Grand Tastings throughout the festival, is in Wagner Park just a block east from the Snow Queen Lodge, a veteran of the Aspen community and one of the most affordable downtown options. If you’d like a room on par with the quality of the Food & Wine Classic, however, the Aspen Residence Hotel sits two blocks from the famous Silver Queen Gondola. You might be sharing a roof with some culinary celebrities at this boutique hotel, which alone is worth the extra cost.
The festival consists of tastings, educational seminars, panel discussions and, of course, the Grand Tastings, served on Friday and Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. Any ticket holder can attend any seminar, but the Classic gives seating priority to attendees who have preregistered for that seminar ahead of time. So if a particular event catches your eye, be sure to call 877-900-WINE to ensure your seat. Some seminars take place more than once throughout the weekend, such as megastar José Andrés’ discussion of “Tapas Technology” on both Friday and Saturday at 3:45 p.m.
As many as 12 events take place at any one time, and many of them happen twice, so do your homework. For instance, Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons’ “Top Chef Family Meal” seminar on their at-home cooking habits will likely draw big crowds on Friday and Saturday at 3:45 p.m., so you should reserve your place at one of them now. But don’t think you can just wing it during the other time slot. The whole weekend, starting at 10 a.m. Friday, will fill up fast!
If you don’t have tickets to the Classic but are traveling to Aspen in June, there’s plenty for you to do, too. Create your own Food & Wine Classic by walking from ink! Coffee, where the high altitude allows the beans to roast longer than other places, to The Red Onion for a mountain lunch of sliders and chili and finally to Ajax Tavern for the delicious, of-course-because-this-is-Aspen elk tenderloin. Aspen Brewing Company isn’t far if you’d like to enjoy a pint outdoors after that. If you feel the need to exercise after all this, the mountains contain countless trails, but a more communal experience happens on Saturday morning when the festival sponsors a 5K Charity Run benefitting Food & Wine magazine’s charity, Wholesome Wave Foundation.
The main events of the festival end at 6:15 p.m. every day, leaving plenty of time for evening fun. Anybody, not just ticket holders, can attend the Last Bite Dessert Party at Hotel Jerome on Friday night, but you have to purchase tickets in advance. While they’ll set you back around $125 each, they will give you access to a star-studded party enjoying Johnny Luzzini’s wall-to-wall cakes, truffles, tarts, meringues, macaroons, galettes des rois and whatever else famous pastry chefs are making these days. More than worth the cost.
Finally, the Classic only admits folks 21 and older, period. So be prepared, if you’re traveling with children, to make alternate plans for them. Fortunately, Aspen’s setting in one of the most dramatic Rockies ranges makes this pretty easy. Take the iconic Silver Queen Gondola to the top of Aspen mountain (a breathtaking 18-minute ride) for a picnic surrounded by one of the best views in the country. Afterward, the kids can get their energy out at 11,212 feet by running the obstacle course, digging for silver or even jumping on Eurobungy’s (perfectly safe!) bungy trampoline. Back down the mountain, consider exploring Ashcroft Ghost Town or taking a horse ride to Maroon Bells and Crested Butte with Aspen Wilderness Outfitters. The weather is beautiful in early summer, so stay outdoors as much as possible.
Food & Wine magazine has 14 events throughout the year, from the Atlanta Festival (May 29-June 1) to the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend (August 29-31), but the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado, shines at the forefront of them all. If you’re lucky enough to attend this year, we hope you have a delicious time! And if you didn’t get tickets in time, there’s always next June.