It looked like Troy Dungan elbow-to-elbow with the godfather of Gallic cuisine, Jacques Pepin, but we couldn’t be sure. Troy wasn’t wearing his signature bow tie. For theduration of the 16th Annual Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen, people changed their identities to avoid paying the $565 entry fee. So the weatherman turned into a wine editor and socialites turned into cheesemongers on the great leveling ground of wine and food.
This event is always dominated by Dallasites-we just love Colorado, though they don’t feel the same about us. Of the interna tional media present, 10 percent 1 were from Dallas, more than from any other city, because Laurels chef Danielle Custer was named one of ’ the top 10 best new chefs in America. It doesn’t hurt that the Dallas restaurant economy is booming and that ’ Dallasites will fly a thousand miles for ’ a chance to stand in the spotlight.
For instance, give Dallas Mozzarella Company’s Paula Lambert a booth and she rules the world. Lambert’s Aspen days began with a brisk morning power walk- accompanied by Dallas rich person Nancy Dedman and internationally renowned food writer Patricia Wells.
“Oh, here comes Jacques again” Paula sighed as Pepin strolled up to her cheese booth for another free snack. It was all part of the Jacques-eying for position that lasted all weekend. Pepin was the biggest celebrity, and everyone wanted a word with the king.
The Grand Tastings, held three times a day, filled Wagner Park at the base of Aspen Mountain with wine drinkers whose median income is $280,000. Between tastings, seminars covered everything you never wondered about wine and food (“Riesling: The Misunderstood Grape”).
Weaving our way through the crowd, we ran into Donna Guerra (designer of the Diamond Club at The Ballpark in Arlington) and Cheryl Wyly (diamond-studded wife of Dallas millionaire Sam Wyly). After mastering “The ABC’s of Wine,’” Cheryl made a beeline to the United Airlines reception to mingle with cookie maven Mrs. Fields, ice cream guru Jerry (of Ben and Jerry fame), and Silver Palate-ex Sheila Lukins.
Mansion cellar-master Daryl Beeson – became our dapper redcoated guide, taking us past the 1,000 wines offered for general sampling and clueing us in as to who was pouring the hundred-bucks-a-bottle stuff from under-the-table stashes and who the famous vintners with no name tags were. And who was kissing those famous semi-incognitos?
The ubiquitously ebullient Renie Steves, owner of Fort Worth’s French Apron Cooking School, has been attending the Classic for 10 years. Bouncing from celebrity to celebrity in her Escada sweater with a hole the size of a champagne cork (from a luggage-handling mishap), Renie had kisses for everyone.
A Friday-night reception at renowned Little Nell for the top student chefs of the Culinary Institute drew a big overdressed Dallas contingent, mostly because Stephan Pyles (chef-owner of AquaKnox and Star Canyon), Richard Chamberlain (chef-owner of Chamberlain’s Prime Chop House), and Brett Wiest (formerly chef at the French Room) were cooking side-by-side, poolside.
Danny Meyer, owner of NYC’s perennially packed Union Square Cafe, pumped us for the skinny on the Dallas dining scene. Other restaurant big shots had great food memories of Dallas, although not perhaps what you’d expect. Restaurateur Drew Nieporent (Robert De Niro’s part- ner in Tribeca Grill) bypasses Star Canyon for Sonny Bryan’s and thinks I Golden Chicken has the best fried chick-I en in the world.
I At Little Nell, we toasted Chamberlain’s fabulous huevos with a glass of champagne. We had been assured by Andrea Immer (SMU grad and master sommelier at Windows on the World) in her seminar “Champagne Classics,” that bubbles are appropriate for every occasion, and we used every occasion to test her theory.
Eating his way from station to station at Saturday night’s grand grazing fest, held in the historic Hotel Jerome, Kent Ralhbun was a perfect example of the Classic’s three-coast convergence: He was standing by the Spago-Beverly Hills table with a plate of lamb prepared by the chef from Quilty’s in New York chatting about his new restaurant and how happy he was about fellow-Dallasite Danielle’s success, when along came Renie to give him a kiss.