By Shawn Chitnis
ASPEN, Colo. (CBS4) – The 36th annual Food & Wine Classic brings together some of the most influential names in the culinary industry from around the world but each year chefs, wine experts, and food producers from the host state expand their footprint.
“As a native Coloradan, I’ve always wanted to be a part of Aspen Food & Wine,” said Kevin Webber, the director of operations and sales for Carboy Winery.
The Classic has long enjoyed the reputation as the signature food festival of the industry, but the rest of Colorado outside of Aspen has not always been aware of the event or received the same attention as the mountain town.
“Sometimes we take it for granted in Colorado, in Denver, in Boulder, this happening this weekend and there’s people flying form all over the world,” said Bobby Stuckey, owner of Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder.
Stuckey presented multiple seminars on wine over the weekend as a master sommelier and has become a regular at the Classic.
“I cross my fingers and hope I get invited back,” he said.
Carlin Karr, Frasca’s wine director, joined Stuckey at the Classic this year, the first time she attended the event. She says working for the restaurant and the team behind it helps someone based in Colorado to stand out at such a major industry gathering.
“It’s one of these rare restaurants in the middle of the country that gets lots of national attention,” she said.
For Stuckey, it is great to see his industry shift its focus to his state for even just a week every June. The classic runs the same weekend each year from Friday to Sunday.
“This is the center of the wine universe from about Tuesday to Monday morning,” he said. “That’s so exciting.”
Beyond wine, the people behind the food of Colorado are also getting noticed at the Classic.
“You feel like you’re a representation of a community that’s just booming,” said Alex Seidel, a chef and restaurateur based in Denver.
Seidel won Best New Chef in 2010 from Food & Wine magazine, the host of the Classic. He just received a James Beard Award in May for “Best Chef: Southwest” recognizing the work he has done at both Mercantile and Fruition restaurants in Denver.
“This is our home away from home,” said Hunter Lewis, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine. “I think it speaks to what a national brand like Food & Wine thinks of the state of Colorado to make Aspen it’s summer home base.”
Lewis pointed to Seidel as just one of the people from Colorado getting noticed at the Classic, someone Lewis spent part of his weekend with while in Aspen.
“We really wanted to get the story out to consumers and to chefs and to other food influencers about beef production,” said Alisa Harrison, the senior vice president of global marketing and research for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Her group is based in Centennial as a convenient central location for the industry they represent across the country. This is their first time at the Classic as well. They chose the event to relaunch their “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” campaign.
“Today our research shows that consumers want to know where their food comes from and beef is no different,” she added.
The slogan started in 1992 and more than 25 years later it will return to a different marketplace. As consumers are more concerned than ever about safety and quality, the industry says it is ready to meet those expectations.
“Beef is better today than it ever has been,” said Harrison.
Whether a veteran or a first-time attendee, everyone has a goal set for the Classic. Accomplishing what they desire likely will not be done in one year but it can set the foundation for a return on their investment. Giving them a reason to come back to the Classic in the future.
In less than two years, the Littleton based winery has worked to highlight their home state as a grape growing region. Their time in Aspen has already made a good impression on visitors as they prepare for a new location to open in Breckenridge.
“People were very shocked and surprised at the quality of the wine from Colorado grapes,” said Webber. “We really want to put Colorado wine on the map.”