The sight of the glistening lamb, slowly turning over glowing coals, next to a babbling brook, was pure bliss. The smoky, succulent meat was used to build a variety of bocadillos (Spanish sandwiches), with romesco sauce, aioli, and an assortment of pickled peppers.
It was a great treat listening to Andres hold court as he handed out chunks of sausage, plates of tapas, and a few well-timed barbs at the other chefs in attendance. For me this was the essence of the Food & Wine Classic experience.
In his restaurant, Chiarello had noticed a clear, fragrant liquid would collect on top of the large buckets of chopped tomato. Not wanting to waste, he discovered this tomato water made a wonderfully refreshing "martini." As he spoke, we enjoyed one garnished with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. It was simply perfect.
For a few moments I seriously considered rushing the stage. I figured I could get a few bites down before being overwhelmed by security. Fortunately, common sense prevailed. I'm about to start a batch of the pickled green tomatoes, and in just three short months, I will be living the dream.
The cocktail, called As the Night Falls, was being served exclusively at Chateau de Grey Goose, Grey Goose's beautiful Aspen lair. I was invited to meet its creator, François Thibault, and taste the intriguingly named concoction.
I'll admit, I'm not a cocktail party guy, but as I watched my drink being muddled and mixed, I was getting oddly excited. It was love at first sip – a delicious combination of L'Orange vodka, grapefruit juice, ginger, and pink peppercorns.
Harold Dieterle, winner of Top Chef season one, did a warm salad of wing beans, wild boar, and young coconut that glowed with bright, vibrant flavor. It hit all the right notes for taste, texture, and temperature, and had I known Harold any better I would have asked for a whole plate.
Overall, the food was very impressive, with each chef showing exactly why they'd been included in this select group, but it was Christopher Kostow's Roasted Corn Custard with Truffles and Popcorn that proved most memorable.
The sweet corn was turned into an impossibly smooth and silky crème, studded with shaved black truffles, and in the center, a chewy puff of popcorn. While some questioned the textual combinations, I loved everything about it. Sweet, earthy, soft, chewy, and feather-light.
We enjoyed tender lamb tacos, matched perfectly with the legendary Stella Artois; venison sliders topped with a yuzu aioli were lovely with a Leffe Blonde; and Chef Love's smoky goat crepinette was a tour de force paired with the light and fruity Hoegaarden.
For a beer-with-food lover, it just doesn’t get any better. To quote Homer Simpson, "Beer, is there anything it can't do?
As I ate spicy Piri Piri Shrimp, lamb curry, and grilled ostrich, all paired with a delicious selection of indigenous wines. I learned that Gail Simmons' father was South African. It was fun listening to her, Samuelsson, and others discuss their various culinary memories. It's always nice to be exposed to an entirely new cuisine, and I certainly look forward to learning even more.
In what was probably the most interesting plate I tasted during the Classic weekend, Chef Blais created an imaginative dish of braised lamb with root beer and toasted sesame. As if that wasn't unusual enough, the young chef, using a tank of liquid nitrogen, whipped up a batch of coleslaw ice cream to serve alongside. It was as delicious as it was unexpected.
The chefs had 30 minutes to cook breakfast for a panel of judges, and in the end it was the team of Hosea and Jacque that took the prize. I believe it was Izard's audacious offering of "leftover pizza," used as a base for lobster, bacon, and eggs, that was the difference. As a leftover pizza aficionado, I enjoyed her creative combination, but the judges weren't as impressed.