Some 5,000 restaurant professionals, celebrity chefs, beverage experts and people who just love the world of eating and drinking are converging on Aspen, Colo., this weekend for the 31st annual Food & Wine Classic.
“It’s really great to be not only around your peers, but also to communicate with all your guests and customers,” said celebrity chef Chris Cosentino, the owner of Incanto restaurant in San Francisco who won a season of Top Chef Masters and also has appeared on Iron Chef America and other food-related television programs.
This will be Cosentino’s third year in Aspen. He said he enjoys getting to meet customers as well as fellow chefs — something that he doesn’t get to do to often. “A lot of us work all the time,” he said. “And there’s a lot of cool stuff happening in Aspen — all the wine seminars and a lot of stuff to be seen. It’s a great time.”
Those wine seminars include a presentation by master sommelier Bobby Stuckey, owner of Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, Colo., which won the James Beard Foundation Award for the country’s outstanding wine program. Stuckey will be discussing wines of Friuli Venezia Giulia, the Italian region from which Frasca derives its inspiration.
Paul Grieco, co-owner of Hearth restaurant in New York City, as well as the six-unit Terroir wine bar chain, will be sharing his views on one of his favorite grape varietals, Riesling.
Cosentino himself will be doing a demonstration on do-it-yourself sausages, as well as helping to lead a workshop on social media that’s part of the Classic’s American Express Restaurant Trade Program. He said he’ll be setting up his computer and showing the trade program attendees how he uses the Vine social media platform to demonstrate in stop-motion how he builds a dish.
“There’s great possibilities with it,” Cosentino said.
Also participating on that panel are New Orleans-based celebrity chef and restaurateur John Besh.
About 450 people are expected to attend the trade program, which is being moderated once again by Chicago TV personality Steve Dolinsky, food reporter for ABC-7 in Chicago.
Dolinsky, who also does food and beverage media training for people outside of Chicago, will also help lead a workshop about how to break into broadcasting, along with Los Angeles-based food personality and restaurateur Susan Feniger, celebrity chef Ming Tsai, who runs restaurants in Massachusetts, and Andrew Zimmern, host of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods.”
“I like to ask questions of all the thought leaders of the industry,” Dolinsky said, explaining why he has been moderating the panels for the better part of a decade. “I always learn something.”
He also said that he loves talking to restaurateurs from outside of Chicago, particularly New York's Danny Meyer, head of the Union Square Hospitality Group. “Danny Meyer never ceases to amaze me,” Dolinsky said. “He always has something eloquent and insightful to say each year.”
Meyer is participating in a panel on recruiting, retaining and training staff, along with Chicago-based celebrity chef and restaurateur Rick Bayless and Bobby Stuckey of Frasca, as well as Gretchen Selfridge, restaurant support officer at Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Also on the docket for the trade program is a panel on cause marketing with celebrity chefs José Andrés and Marcus Samuelsson, New York City-based chef Marc Murphy and The Cheesecake Factory president David Gordon.
Rounding out the program is a panel discussion on harnessing the power of the Internet with celebrity chefs Grant Achatz of Alinea and other Chicago restaurants and Richard Blais of The Spence and Flip Burger Boutique in Atlanta. Also participating in the panel is Mike Church, vice president of interactive ecosystem for Darden Restaurants, parent of Red Lobster, Olive Garden and other casual-dining chains.
“We all work hard,” Dolinsky said, “but whenever I talk to these restaurateurs and chefs, I’m always amazed at how much they accomplish.”
This story has been edited to reflect the following update:
Update June 12, 2012 This story has been edited to reflect a change in the American Express Restaurant Trade Program's participants.