Arriving at the luxe Park Hyatt Beaver Creek on Thursday night was a feat in itself, as we drove in a snowstorm from Denver International Airport. But despite the storm more than doubling the length of the ride, my fellow passengers were elated — it meant fresh powder on the slopes the next morning.
It’s an interesting thing throwing a food and wine festival, namely the Beaver Creek Food & Wine Weekend, in a place where an intensive activity, like skiing or snowboarding, is so ingrained. Attendees rose early in the morning, no matter how late the after-party went, to hit the slopes and work off the consequences of the wine tastings, lunch demonstrations, and multicourse dinners of the day before.
Bon Appetit used to put on this event every year, but this was the first year that it was hosted by Food & Wine magazine, and they did an incredible job of incorporating their surroundings into the festivities — no event began so early as to prevent skiing, there was a sold-out Snowshoe & Lunch event, and snowcats outfitted with heavy blankets and a front row view of the stars (in the sky, not celebrities…) escorted diners to chef John Besh’s dinner at Allie’s Cabin.
There were energetic wine tastings with the unique and totally accessible Anthony Giglio, who may be an expert on wine but is not afraid to make comments about California chardonnay’s typical notes of cheap movie-theater popcorn butter, or say that old-school Italians still consider white wine to be "dish water." Perhaps my favorite part of the wine tasting, though (and it was hard to narrow it down), was that once we’d tasted the three white wines, he had the room vote on our favorite and only then did he reveal the price of each bottle. The favorite white wine turned out to be a $12 bottle of torrontés from the Hess Collection.
That sort of wily, fun, and expert energy continued at chef Stephanie Izard and chef Christian Apetz's Lunch and Learn event, which was a demonstration and luncheon. It was held in a performing arts hall, with tables, chairs, and a demo kitchen all set up on the intimate stage. Both chefs were right at home entertaining the crowd, taking questions, giving tips and secrets, and practically begging for more wine. But then Izard announced what she’d be making for lunch and within a moment, the room fell silent. (Or was everyone just queasy?) Her "banh mi" was going to be made with pig’s face.
And while each table had a few (vocal) doubters, Izard was able to turn the room back around by describing just how popular it is at her restaurant, the Girl and the Goat in Chicago, and by creating, arguably, the most unforgettable moment of the weekend. She and chef Apetz reached into the refrigerator onstage to pull out two unbutchered pig heads. Then, they both called their sous chefs out from behind the curtain and challenged them to a butcher-off — each sous had their own pig’s head to butcher. The final twist? Izard’s sous chef (who apparently does this all the time) was blindfolded.
The winner? Izard’s sous chef. The time? Just less than two minutes. Did it make the pig’s face banh mi better after having watched that demonstration? It’s hard to say, but it was delicious either way.
The first night of the festival there were three dinners to choose from — chef John Besh at Allie’s Cabin, chef Marc Murphy at Splendido, and chef Stephanie Izard at Mirabelle. I attended chef Besh’s dinner at Allie’s Cabin. It started with a fantastic snowcat ride up to the top of the mountain, where we mixed and mingled and ate a passed amuse-bouche of scallops with caviar — the tone had been set. In the end, though, the room seemed to agree that chef Besh’s dinner, while delicious, left something to be desired, which was disappointing from someone as accomplished as he. The chief complaint I gleaned from eavesdropping on the snowcat ride back down was that he’d brought every ingredient with him from New Orleans rather than taking advantage of the fantastic local Coloradan ingredients available to him.
As Saturday evening rolled around, festivalgoers lined up to check their coats one last time in anticipation of the Grand Tasting finale event. Every chef on and around the mountain was there, each winery had its own table, and attendees excitedly discussed which events they’d gone to and which they liked best. Chef Besh redeemed himself tenfold with one of the best dishes of the Grand Tasting — a jumbo prawn with grits that was bold-flavored and inspired second trips. Chef Marc Murphy cooked a creamy and indulgent pasta with Italian sausage, Stephanie Izard served a goat chili that was unforgettable, and the local chef at the Park Hyatt served three desserts, all made with goat’s milk or cheese — a homemade doughnut filled with apricot and goat’s cheese; a goat’s milk milkshake that was, frankly, a revelation; and a super-rich brownie made with goat cheese.
Of course, the weekend was jam packed with more events than just these — Tim Love seemed to take home the unofficial "win" of the Après-Ski Burgers and Beers event, he also hosted a popular lunch demonstration, and Anthony Giglio hosted another (and in his opinion better) second day wine tasting. The festival did a lot of things well, not the least of which was packing a calendar full of events without making festivalgoers feel anything but inspired by the end. Here’s to round two in 2013!
(All photos courtesy of Nicole Campoy-Leffler)