Aspen Food & Wine Classic: 'The Sundance of Food'

Food & Wine Classic (it's been around as long as my wife and I have been married) is the ultimate serious eater's hang. My wife said it best: "The Food & Wine classic is the Sundance of food."

And unlike Sundance, the public is invited, if you're lucky enough to snag one of the less than 1,500 tickets they sell to the public. The tickets are not cheap (around $1,000, depending on the package). Here's what you get for all your dough: the ability to attend seminars and demonstrations by everyone from Thomas Keller to Mario Batali to Bobby Flay, and, perhaps more importantly, the ability to interact with these folks as they wander through the two tents filled with food and wine booths.

If you're a grapehead the F&W Classic is mindblogging. Lots of major wineries (and many small boutique ones as well) are ready to pour if you're ready to drink. I actually tasted a couple of phenomenal Texas wines made by Becker Vineyards. Pouring great wine is only part of the fun. People like the terrific Andrea Immer Robinson give seminars and tastings and lead panel discussions. Danny Meyer and Bacon of the Month overlord Dan Phillips led a hilarious and completely captivating serial ham and wine tasting titled "Green Grapes and Ham."

Of course the Grand Tasting Tent was full of grand (and not so grand) tastes. My five favorites:

The slow-cooked pork sandwich with jerk sauce made by former F&W best chef and Beard Award-winning Brad Thompson at the All-Clad booth.

The ceviche at the Rums of Puerto Rico booth

A simple taste of Maytag blue cheese with honey

The toffee from Garrison Confections of Providence, Rhode Island. Its co-owner Andrew Shotts also shoved a chocolate bar in my back pants pocket after my wife told him I didn't need another chocolate bar. How wrong she was. The chocolate bar was the best dark chocolate nougat-caramel bar of all times, studded with pistachios, hazelnuts, and amonds . Imagine combining the best qualities of a Milky Way and and a Snickers bar, and that's what this bar tasted like. You will be hearing more about these bars on Serious Eats.

The Black-pepper smoked beef tenderloin made by Tom Perini at his ranch in Buffalo Gap, Texas. It's moist and smokey and absolutely delicious with a little pepper jam on toast.

There's great energy at the Food & Wine Classic as well as a democratic and populist vibe that I've never found at another event like this. It's big fun, and I look forward to next year.

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