Friday, June 22, 2007

What does Aspen have that we don?t?

There?s a lot of green in those hills

Express Staff Writer

Chef Mario Pagán, right, does some heavy roasted pig lifting at the 25th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Photo by Dana DuGan

There's the first destination ski resort of Sun Valley and its sister town of Ketchum, and then there's Aspen. Leaving comparisons in skiing aside, the latter is a lively and sophisticated place with lots of well-funded cultural and outdoor attractions.

It's not that Aspen is better, but what it has is bigger in a variety of ways. That includes the ways it is ahead of the Sun Valley area in how it promotes, studies and works to manage the town's growth and sustainability.

As well, Aspen is host to the largest culinary event in the country¾the annual Food & Wine Classic. Held one week later then the inaugural Sun Valley Food & Wine Festival, it was marked this year, in its 25th anniversary, by a trend to be "green."

For starters, Food & Wine pledged to raise $1 million for its "Grow For Good" campaign in support of Farm to Table, a national initiative dedicated to supporting sustainable farming and cuisine. A portion of the proceeds from each Food & Wine Classic pass was donated to Grow for Good before the event even began on Thursday, June 14.

During the course of the Food & Wine Classic, there were several events that benefited Grow for Good, including sales of merchandise sold there. An invitation-only poker game, with a $25,000 pot, was played by such star chefs as Bobby Flay, David Chang, Ming Tsai and José Andrés. That event was won by Chef David Burke, a 2006 James Beard nominee for Best Chef, New York City, who in turn donated that money to Farm to Table.

Among the many high-end cookbooks available was a slight, green tome called "Sustainable Cuisine White Papers." It is made up of essays on everything from organic chocolate and wine to one entitled "I Do Not like Green Eggs and Ham" by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Chef Ryan Hardy of The Little Nell at the base of Ajax Mountain has taken the concept of sustainable cuisine to a personal level. Last year, he bought a 15-acre farm in order to grow fresh, organic and locally grown food. As a bonus, he can supply his own restaurant with locally grown greens, fruits and meats as well as his own artisan chêvre from goat milk sourced at a nearby farm.

"What we really want to do is feed the community," he said over lunch.

Rendezvous Farms has a booth at the Aspen Saturday Market to do just that. By buying Rendezvous and turning it into an organic farm, Hardy is carrying out the vision of Farm to Table.

Even sponsors got in the act: Lexus provided 23 hybrid cars with drivers to ferry VIPs around Aspen to events for free. When Delta Air Lines hosted an anniversary party at the top of the mountain, partygoers were referred to as "eco-chip jet setters" as they boarded the high-speed, six-person, wind-powered gondolas, boarding pass in hand. Once at the top, there was a display of six mini-greenhouses on stilts showing sustainable crops grown in miniature. All the food was prepared and grown at Rendezvous by Hardy.

It wasn't just Aspen, with its own green initiatives and hybrid city busses, that proved inspirational, but Food & Wine magazine itself that urged this push.

"We thought it was the right time to reduce (the Classic's) carbon footprint," said publisher Jean-Paul Kyrillos.

All the utensils—plastic forks, spoons, knives glasses and plates—used in the grand tasting pavilions were corn-based compostable products. Event printing was done on recycled paper with recyclable ink. Bio-diesel fuel was used for the pavilions' generators. "Green" exhibits included such products as Green & Back organic chocolate, Grow For Good, Finlandia vodka, Gainey Vineyards and Bonny Doon Vineyards. Recycling mavens with "Recycle Here" signs stood sentry over bins, grabbing plates and cups out of people's hands as soon as they were emptied.

During the finale of the festival, the Classic Cook-Off hosted by Sissy Biggers, a sous chef spot with Chef Bobby Flay, was auctioned off for $37,000. Since there is only 20 minutes on the clock, that's well more than $1,000 per minute. It was bought by a man for his wife, a cancer survivor. All the money was donated to the Susan B. Komen Cancer Foundation Cook for a Cure.

What Aspen has is 10 years on Ketchum and Sun Valley. Its proactive community benefits from partners who throw events such as the Food & Wine Classic. Organizations such as Food & Wine in turn bring an eco-friendly sensibility to Aspen. Sun Valley has a chance to do the same for its Food & Wine Festival, but it can start in its second year rather than waiting until the 25th. Now that's progress.

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