Joy is a place where you can be high as hell with a bacon-wrapped banh mi hot dog in one hand and a paddlefish caviar canapé in the other.
Composite image; all photos by the author.
When life hands you passes to the most prestigious food and wine festival in the world, in one of the most picturesque towns in America, you do what any responsible adult would do: stock up at your local dispensary (thanks, Colorado), bust out your fake Chanel bag, and get ready to eat and drink your face off.
Giddy with anticipation, I embarked on my maiden voyage to a legal dispensary, a far cry from my High Maintenance-inspired NYC delivery service. A young, boho-styled Zoe Kravitz-type talked me through the different hybrid cartridge options, though I’m fairly certain she was high herself, as my expressed interest in an sativa-dominant strain that wouldn't make me too paranoid or knock me out, seemed to challenge her.
Once that was sorted, I was ready to hit the Grand Tasting, the daily feeding (and drinking) frenzy that is the crown jewel of the 3-day Aspen Food and Wine Classic. Attendees, who pay a rich man’s rent—approximately $2,000 per ticket—are given the opportunity to indulge in an abundance of bites and beverages from some of the greatest chefs, winemakers, and distilleries from all over the world. Forever a fat kid at heart (and in actuality after this weekend), holy shit was I stoked.
Filing into Wagner Park, the transformed rugby field now lined with white tents, I felt like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket winner, peeping the magical, edible paradise with Gene Wilder’s version of "Pure Imagination" and a few hits of Blue Dream propelling my step. As I entered the mountain-bordered field of foodie dreams settling into my first legal high, it was full blown sensory overload: Hundreds of the industry’s best vendors waiting to serve me. My mind was blown: crudos, cocktails, maple and bourbon-soaked brioche French toast. I was quickly double, triple, quadruple fisting freshly sliced San Daniele prosciutto from Italy, creamy black truffle risotto from the inside of a giant wheel of Parmesan cheese, pork sliders quite literally being pulled off the bone from the inside of a whole roasted pig, and lamb tartare sliders from chef (and Best New Chef honoree) Kate Williams of Detroit's Lady of the House, to name a few.
This was it right here, the ultimate stoned euphoria.
Joy truly is a place where you can be high as hell with a bacon wrapped spicy banh mi hot dog from LA's SumoDog in one hand and a cracker with paddlefish caviar, scallion vinaigrette, and sour cream courtesy of Chef Julia Sullivan of Nashville's Henrietta Red (another Best New Chef honoree) in the other. Fancy hot dogs were everywhere and I wasn't mad about that either. I washed everything down with craft cocktails of rye, lemonade, honey, and rosemary with a smokey rim, tequila creations of all kinds, Negronis from the oldest gin distillery in the US, and just about every variety of wine and bubbly from the best wine regions all across the globe. No dry mouth here.
I only managed to get too stoned a few times throughout the weekend, which felt like a win. I have a tendency to clean when I'm high, which is usually one of my most prized quirks, but there's an appropriate time and place. It turns out the Aspen Food & Wine Classic is neither the time nor the place. I freaked out an older festival attendee when I took the dirty plates out of her hands as she was struggling to find a garbage can. She was perplexed at my heels and floral getup paired with my sudden propensity to step in on clean-up. I also, apparently, went up to the Top Chef cheftestants from last year's Colorado season as if I was running into old friends, demanded high-fives from each of them individually, then ran away. Get on my level.
It's worth noting that I left the Grand Tasting void of my Chanel bag’s trademark ‘Cs,’ a casualty of my overzealous consuming; fortunately, Rag & Bone was handing out free denim totes, sparing me from the shame of a C-less Chanel knock-off. I took one. I was in Aspen, after all.
Another spiraling moment of overindulgence took place at a private dinner at Lance Armstrong’s house. Even sober, I had so many thoughts ping-ponging in my head about how the disgraced legend would hold himself amongst a crowd—perhaps laying off the green stuff would’ve prevented my most bizarre high of the weekend. Turns out he was laid back and almost comically self-deprecating, but the uncomfortable irony of both being in the presence of his apparent close friend Bryan Fogel, Oscar-winning director of the documentary film Icarus, and my discovery of an Ed Ruscha print which read ‘Safe but Effective Medication’ in Armstrong’s basement was enough to question everything I thought I knew in life to be true. I’d say I made it out unscathed, which, considering I didn't have to ask to lie down in Lance’s spare bedroom to ease out of my panic attack, is basically true.
Outside of the weekend’s consumption-centered events, there were lessons to be learned via the many cooking demonstrations and discussions from celebrity chefs, master sommeliers, and restaurateurs. Curious about wines from Portugal? Interested in figuring out what pairs best with brie? Want a cooking lesson from the godfather of the culinary world, Jacques Pépin? The panel program had a little something for everyone. I enjoyed learning how to make pasta from scratch thanks to Top Chef winner Joe Flamm, who used a beer bottle as a makeshift rolling pin and left us nuggets of wisdom along the way: "If you guys aren't saving your parmesan rinds, you need to take a good look at your life." I clearly need to do some soul searching.
The truth is, I'm not sure I needed additional substances to heighten this experience: the Food & Wine Classic is a drug in it of itself, a bizarro alter-reality where the upper echelon of food-lovers and celebrity chefs come together under the stunning Aspen sky to indulge in some of the fanciest food the culinary and beverage world has to offer. The "devil's lettuce" (as my dad calls it) certainly didn't hurt either—it brought the entire event to new heights and gave me what felt like an entire second stomach, ready to overindulge in whatever Aspen could throw my way. I would, in fact, deem it the absolute best place to have the munchies.