We arrived in Aspen around mid-afternoon on Thursday. It was basically a set up day and once Jena arrived we collected all of the boxes and made our way to the tents where the grand tasting was to take place. Alex and I had trade passes so we could get into the trade seminars, so we were initially banned from the tent. Fortunately Jena was able to produce some extra exhibitors passes and get us in to set up. We were met by a group from two of her other properties and we were able to get organized relatively quickly.
Dinner at Matsuhisa which was not quite as good as his restaurants in NYC, apparently we missed the boat since rumor had it he arrived in Aspen the following day. Apparently you're supposed to wait for his arrival to eat at the restaurant but we were sadly out of the loop. No matter, the company was good and the food was tasty, if not up to the standards that we were hoping for.
We were able to catch a trade seminar on "Creating Flavor: It's All About the Food". It was a panel discussion featuring Mario Batali, Suzanne Goin, Patrick O'Connell and Marcus Samuelsson, moderated by Dana Cowin, editor in chief of Food and Wine. It was interesting because although we didn't discuss it with each other before hand, we were both expecting it to be about techniques for extracting the most flavor from ingredients. Instead the discussion turned out to be more about how the panelists developed their individual flavor signatures and personal styles of cooking. All of the panelists are known for very different genres of food so that made for an interesting discussion. We really enjoyed their personal stories and the reminder that we all deal with the same issues in teaching and training staff, and developing personal styles, no matter what kind of restaurant or kitchen you may occupy.
The first Grand Tasting Session went well. It's quite loud in the tents and that sometimes makes it difficult to talk to the people stopping by the table. In comparison to last year a surprising number of people were familiar with Keyah Grande and Pagosa Springs so that made it easier to try and tell people about the property. I love people watching so it was fun to watch the ebb and flow of the crowd. I was actually behind the table, with Alex and Jena out front so I had the luxury of having people come to me. The sugar and spice were getting a pretty positive response. We eliminated the edible giveaway from our display this year, last year we gave away spiced caramel popcorn, because so many of the people just wanted the food and weren't interested in travel. We got fewer people at the table but a much higher percentage of the ones that stopped were interested in learning more about Keyah Grande and JG Representation. So we were pleased with that decision. We'll see how it goes at the table this morning.
One of the benefits of sharing the table is that we are free to attend seminars in the afternoon. We went to Rhone wine tasting in the afternoon led by Daniel Johness. It highlighted Guigal, they produced five out of the seven wines tasted and showed a broad range of the different regional variations of the Rhone wines. There was one Condrieu, a Gigondas, a St. Joseph, a Cote Rotie, a Crozes Hermitage, a Hermitage and a Chateauneuf du Pape. It was a an interesting and well thought out discussion. We are both fans of Rhone wines and rarely get to taste them in this kind of setting. For us it was definitely time well spent.
The second tasting we went to was on the future of Washington Wines and moderated by Daniel Bonadies. We've tasted some really wonderful wines from Washington over the past few years so we were excited about learning more about them. We tasted six wines and four of the winemakers were at the tasting to talk about their wines in particular and Washington wines in general. Listening to them talk was a treat as they were all very passionate about what they do. The general consensus was that water and the ability to get access to water for irrigation would be the defining factor in the future of Washington wines. Apparently the property is still relatively inexpensive and available but since most of the viticulture areas are high desert regions with very little rain, water will determine the future of the industry. The wines were amazing and we were definitely glad that we chose this particular seminar.
We were able to taste some brilliant wines during the grand tasting and catch up with some people that we haven't seen in a while. The food at dinner last night was an unmitigated disaster but I'll assume the restaurant was having difficulties coping with the influx of consumers for this weekend and not name names. The bartender who took care of us was appalled at the parade of dishes that emerged from the kitchen and tried his best to smooth things over. It didn't matter, we still managed to enjoy ourselves. The wine was as delicious as the company. It was a timely reminder though that great service still cannot mask bad food. It's definitely something to be aware of in our own kitchen.