The reception was held in Aspen's St. Regis Hotel, and while the young chefs set up their stations, I was able to get in early to ask a few questions. I found it interesting that all four chefs displayed very similar personalities – they were calm, collected, and in complete control. From personal experience I can tell you, this is not easy, especially right before an event of this size and statue.
They were happy to answer questions, pose for pictures, and not only did they endure the distraction politely, they seemed to genuinely be enjoying themselves. Of course, people weren't there to assess their demeanor, they were there to taste the food, and all four came through with very creative and delicious offerings.
Harold Dieterle, winner of Top Chef season one, did a wonderful warm salad of wing beans, wild boar, and young coconut. I learned he's in the process of starting up a second restaurant, but wouldn’t give me an answer as to the concept or style, although be did admit it will be "completely different" than Perilla, his current restaurant in New York.
Stephanie Izard, who is working on opening her first restaurant in Chicago, served a fried Egyptian cheese, called Gebna Makleya, topped with a bright green, chopped fava bean salad. When asked for the inspiration for the unusual ingredient choice, she said it was the result of, "an email from someone, and a couple glasses of wine." I've been known to use a similar method with great success.
Ilan Hall from The Gorbals, in Los Angeles, served a vodka-poached pork meatball "booterbroad," which he explained was Russian for "buttered bread." We all agreed it sounded so much cooler in Russian. He seemed to particularly enjoy interacting with the guests, and was earnestly recommending guests try his bite with a shot of vodka. I can personally verify this was some very good advice.
For guests not chasing down their food with iced shots of vodka, there was a collection of wines from Trinchero Family Estates, which paired nicely with the young chefs' creations.
Last season's winner, Hosea Rosenberg, the chef at Jax Fish House in Boulder, Colorado, offered a wonderfully rich smoked corn soup with shrimp, topped with a puree of huitlacoche (a black fungus that grows on corn). Believe me, it tasted way better than it sounds. It was fun watching the reactions of guests when they were told what the black garnish floating on the top actually was.
It was an interesting and very tasty way to kick off the Food & Wine Classic weekend, and made me even more excited for all the wonderful food and wine that's sure to follow. By the way, I have a lot of photos from the event that I'll publish in a captioned photo gallery when I get back. Stay tuned for plenty more coverage from Aspen!
Photos (c) John Mitzewich