Aspen is a health and fitness obsessed town, a place where we flit around all day in our designer workout clothes so we can go straight from a morning run down the Rio Grande Trail to some trendy yoga class, where a lunch date means a hike up Smuggler followed by a grass-in-the-glass smoothie. It’s a place where simple questions like “May I take your order?” may take all day, the waiter’s eyes glazing over before I’m through telling them everything I can’t have.
Raw, vegan, dairy free—whatever—that all goes out the window during Food & Wine. As soon as I set foot under that big white tent for the first Grand Tasting and get a whiff of the Best New Chefs Table I’ve already forgotten all about the gluten-free craze going, How many calories can there be in an amuse-buche, for crying out loud?
I don’t care if you can hike Ajax in under an hour, there’s no use in fighting it; your goose is literally cooked. Kale be damned, pork is all the rage (again) this year so you might as well embrace it and your inner pig. It doesn’t matter what my yoga guru says because if Mario Batali is in the house it doesn’t matter if it’s good for you, because it’s sure as hell going to taste good.
The kinetic energy pulsing through the three-day event isn’t just because of the celebrity chefs or the culinary delights or the endless flow of wine coursing through our veins like the Roaring Fork River during spring melt off. It’s because all of us Aspenites who have been running/biking/hiking 50 miles a day (okay, 30) on a diet of dehydrated fruit and chia seeds for the last six months after our personal trainers told us to go raw have finally been let out of the gate and into the pen.
I may look like I have it together in my summer best, perfectly highlighted blonde hair peeking out beneath the brim of my favorite embroidered cowboy hat, Ray Ban aviators reflecting into the sun. But behind those mirrored lenses I am like a rabid animal, gorging on chard wrapped pork rolls and braised rabbit tacos and venison tartar like it really is the forbidden fruit.
After two hours of frantically running back and forth between the two big tents in six-inch platform wedge espadrilles trying to eat and drink as much as I can in the time allotted like I’m on one of those demented game shows, I figure at least I’m getting some exercise. And there just may have been enough berry notes in the dozen or so glasses of Pinot Noir I tasted that it’s practically the same thing as the acai smoothie I normally drink. So what if the lady at the Stella Artois booth offered me bottled water because she thought I was pregnant? I calmly explain I’m just bloated from Marc Forgione’s fried mangalista pork rinds that were so good I had to go back for a second sample just to be sure. It’s not my place to give an Iron Chef the ol’ “I can’t eat that because I’m kosher,” excuse. It’s too bad I’ll have to burn that empire waist dress when I get home because I actually kind of liked it.
By the end of the event, I’ve spent more time and energy analyzing what I’m eating and drinking than my therapist does in a double session after a weekend with my mother. Between the farm-to-table movement and sustainable produce and grass fed meat and what the weather was the day the grapes in my wine were harvested, I know more about my food than I do about my husband. It’s not just about eating, see, it’s food as art, the concept of food, the aesthetic. Talk about a mind-body connection, it’s practically a yoga class.
A few years ago during a panel discussion at the Chef’s Club, Tom Colicchio summed it up best. “I don’t know if food should be a competition,” he said. For Aspen, letting go of that drive is a good thing. It’s the one time of year we don’t need to try to be the first to the finish line because as the old saying goes, it’s not over until the fat lady sings—or at least until someone wrongly assumes she is pregnant.