Chopped judge, Iron Chef and owner/chef of The Lambs Club and The National restaurants in New York City Geoffrey Zakarian had a busy schedule at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. In between hosting his Sirius XM Radio show, Food Talk, and catching up with friends at Ajax Tavern, the Iron Chef took the time to give Dish readers an exclusive look at this action-packed visit to Colorado. Read his journal and browse photos from his weekend below.
I arrived in Aspen from Chicago because I absolutely hate flying into Denver airport — I prefer to break the trip into two flights. It’s great to stop in Chicago because it’s rarely delayed, and I can watch exactly one movie on each flight! I arrived at Aspen airport at 8:45pm and grabbed a taxi to my first stop, The St. Regis Hotel. I dropped off my bags, had a quick shave, ironed a shirt for dinner and tried my best to look un-rumpled.
I was off to Casa Tua, where I arranged a 9:30pm dinner with some good friends from New York: Marc Murphy, Ted Allen and his partner, Barry, Sissy Biggers, Scott Feldman, Billy Harris and my terrific publicists, Jaret Keller and Tara Halper. We drank Chianti and had a delicious meal right across from the Food & Wine tents. It’s so much fun sitting in front of the kitchen, watching people come in and say hello. There is a really great ambiance in the sensational-feeling room, and Mickey from Casa Tua really gets it right.
I woke up at 6:00am and was down at the gym by 7:00am. I had a quick breakfast before I studied my notes for the American Express panel on Decoding the Web: How to Harness the Power of the Internet. The discussion basically tests the panel members’ knowledge of digital and social media like Twitter and Facebook, how they have changed the restaurant world and how we employ them to better our messaging. It was a fascinating topic with a lot of great commentary. I love doing these panel events because I learn so much from the questions asked. At noon we walked a short distance to Ajax Tavern, where we sat at the chef’s table for a multitasking lunch consisting of one part rosé, two parts truffle french fries and the U.S. Open golf tournament (which I am obsessed with, and it happened to be the same week as the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, so we try to always find a seat near the television). I fine-tuned my questions and refreshed my memory on all the guests for my 3 o’clock Sirius XM Radio show, Food Talk.
Off to the Chefs Club at The St. Regis, where I checked on the Sirius Radio set, met with the producer and introduced my first guest at 3:00pm, Food & Wine Editor-in-Chief Dana Cowin, who makes this fantastic event happen annually with publisher Christina Grdovic. After her terrific interview came a whole host of incredible guests: Marcus Samuelsson, Marc Murphy, Ted Allen, Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert, Andrew Zimmern, José Andrés, Drew Nieporent, Johnny Iuzzini, Ming Tsai and Ed Kelly, the President of American Express publishing, as well as some walk-ons! It was a terrific show; everyone was so into it and gracious. We passed around Mad Men Cosmopolitans, my signature drink at The Lambs Club.
I had a 9:30am cook-off Sunday morning against Andrew Zimmern in front of 500 people — it was a 25-minute competition. I had to be razor-sharp, so I had called it an early night and woke up at 5:30am. Thank god I did, because it was nerve-wracking up on that stage. The cook-off is the traditional ending to the Food & Wine Classic, and you cannot mess it up or show up to the event less than on your A-game. Thankfully the competition went great, but unfortunately, I lost. Fortunately it was to a terrific gentleman and a real mensch.
My work in Aspen was done. I was so excited and tired, but happy everything went well. The festival was officially over, and everyone was on their way to the Aspen airport to catch their flights out and back home. By 3:30pm, my room-service espresso had arrived, my feet were up and the world seemed so right. Suddenly my phone started to go crazy with texts, and it seemed that the flights out of Aspen to Denver had been canceled (see, I told you so!), as the airport closed for a sudden storm. Ted Allen texts me that he is coming back to the hotel, followed by Sissy Biggers, Mary Wagstaff, and then Tara Halper and Jaret Keller, who also were supposed to leave at noon and had flights canceled. What a mess!
I invited all of them back to my suite, and knowing they would be in a bad mood, ordered a couple of bottles of champagne and snacks galore. At 4pm, my room resembled a sports bar. It was so much fun and spontaneous. So much for relaxing! What a day — what a weekend.
I headed to the airport with Sissy Biggers on the 5:30am shuttle. She was off to New York and I was off on my trusted Chicago to New York route. Two movies later, I arrived back in the Big Apple.