What happened to the foie gras and caviar?
It seems top chefs are excited about vegetables. Three days of cooking seminars and wine tastings at the 29th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen – one of the world’s most exclusive and star chef studded culinary events in the world – enthusiastically embraced the beauty and benefits of Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, zucchini and kale.
Jose Andres, chef, cookbook author and owner of celebrated restaurants in Washington, DC’s including Jaleo and Zaytinya put his passion for cooking produce right up front with a seminar titled, “Sexy Vegetables.” Andres, known for his love of Spanish cuisine, zealously addressed a packed ballroom of enthusiastic foodie fans at Aspen’s St. Regis Hotel and expertly prepared eight vegetable dishes in under an hour including a radish and grapefruit salad with shrimp, watermelon and tomato skewers with a sherry vinaigrette, cucumber and tomato gazpacho with Spanish sherry and Brussels sprouts tapas with green apples and grapes. “Most people cook Brussels sprouts too long for 20 to 30 minutes,” Andres admonished, “Are we nuts? It should be two to three to four minutes! Don’t over cook them; it releases the sulfur smell and that is not sexy!”
Risotto for All Seasons
Sustainability expert and Connecticut chef Michel Nischan who is a culinary consultant to Atlanta’s Terrace Restaurant in the Ellis Hotel presented four risotto recipes –one for each season’s harvest of vegetables- featuring ancient grains called faro and spelt. Nischan, whose restaurant Dressing Room is known for local and organic menu items, centered on the health and taste advantages of eating with the seasons. He shared his definition of sustainability, “It means you give as much back to the earth as you take. For instance, composting leftover vegetable peelings creates more soil to plant more vegetables.”
Drink Your Salad
Andres, who was named 2011 James Beard Award Outstanding Chef, certainly knows about quality but he credits his recent 25 pound weight loss to focusing on quantity, “It’s really about the calories. Learning how much you personally should be eating.” Filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit is the latest diet advice from nutrition experts as illustrated by the USDA’s new My Plate icon. Filling your glass works too as Andres said about his gazpacho recipe, “You don’t eat the salad, you drink the salad!”
Aspen’s summer time vibe is lively with folks headed out hiking, biking, river rafting and fly fishing. The beauty of the wild flowers and Aspen trees spills over into the city’s cuisine. At The Little Nell Hotel, an epicenter for those devoted to dining, Montagna’s menu features great steaks and fabulous fresh fish but vegetables seem to rank just as high in the kitchen. A salad of greens, sliced radishes, fava beans and thin asparagus was so fresh it nearly leapt off the plate.
Wine with Vegetables
“Times they are a changing,” remarked registered dietitian Ashley Koff who noted that one of the Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs Joshua Skenes of Saison in San Francisco chose to feature a vegetarian dish of cauliflower and sea lettuce, “It was clear that the days of all animal all day are a thing of the past. As for what wines go best with your veggies, wine writer Mark Oldman helped me choose a delicious Spanish Rueda – the new “it” wine he said.” More than five thousand food and wine lovers converge to sample the best vintages and victuals each June in Aspen.
Isn’t That Jacques Pepin?
It’s a weekend where the majestic scenery of the Colorado Rockies is closely matched by culinary icon sightings. Jacques Pepin having lunch at Ajax Tavern with Atlanta chef and recent Bravo Top Chef winner Richard Blais. (Try the truffle fries!)
The French Laundry’s chef Thomas Keller having dinner at Aspen’s chic Cache Cache restaurant with chef Daniel Boulud of New York. My favorite food memory of the weekend- enjoying a grilled vegetable salad of marinated artichokes, butternut squash, Portobello mushrooms with arugula and chards of parmesan cheese at Campo de Fiori with Atlanta friends including winemaker Rob Mondavi and his wife Lydia of 29 Cosmetics. Taste, health, beauty and good fun. All that and plenty of vegetables being celebrated in Aspen this summer.