Andrew Zimmern: Tales From Food & Wines Past

By California Chaney Illustrations by John Hinterreiter June 22, 2021

Classic-goers reminisce about the good, bad and sometimes ugly of Aspen’s most delicious and indulgent event.

Thirty-eight years ago, ski bums and wine enthusiasts Gary Plumley (who founded the wine shop Of Grape & Grain) and Bob and Ruth Kevan (former Snowmass restaurateurs) came up with the idea for a wine-tasting event to infuse energy into Aspen’s then shoulder season of early June. Three years later, Food & Wine magazine became the title sponsor and—as they say—the rest is (a slightly blurry) history. In its almost four decades, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen has become an internationally buzzed-about festival where year after year more than 5,000 attendees—including the world’s most famous chefs, hundreds of winemakers, major liquor brands, and culinary celebrities—head to the altitude for three days of Grand Tastings, interactive lectures and parties on top of parties on top of parties. While novices go big on day one, true veterans know it’s all about Sunday. Regardless, nearly everyone who attends the Classic leans into the decadence and debauchery of it. Due to the pandemic, 2020 marked the first year the festival has been cancelled since its inception. This year it returns, forgoing its usual June date for the fall (September 10-12)—unsurprisingly, it’s already sold out. Having gone more than a year without one of Aspen’s favorite events, we thought it was the perfect time to catch up with Classic regulars, top chefs and some of the people behind the scenes to ask them their favorite memories from years past. Everyone had a story, but—as anyone who has attended Food & Wine knows—not all of them are fit for print.

“One of the great parties used to be hosted by Wines from Spain, who would rent a $30 million property and have José Andrés cook. The house had a $10,000 electronic toilet with voice control and a heated seat. I remember a few people who had consumed a lot of hallucinogenic mushrooms staring at the toilet for hours, giggling and giving it commands. I just stood in the massive line behindthem waiting to use the john.” —Andrew Zimmern, James Beard Award-winning chef and TV personality

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