This just in: Variety meats, the B-52s, the most exclusive party at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, and Padma's succulent toes... But first: The first regular episode of TC3 last week got off to an, um, exotic start, no? Until I actually watched the show, I was a little wistful about not being there (Gail and I are alternating episodes, sort of -- I start showing up again on June 27). But I was perfectly happy to see that elimination challenge left to Gail, Tom, Padma, and Anthony Bourdain.
I am not a whiny eater, but I'm also rarely in the mood for 14 courses of monkfish liver, rattlesnake, geoduck, and crocodile tail -- especially coming from chefs who don't specialize in critters. A fun, fantastic challenge? Absolutely. But provocative ingredients like this have everything to do with provocation, and little to do with deliciousness -- I mean, if I wanted to eat bugs and snakes, I'd apply for a job on "Survivor."
Chef Tom assured me later that "it wasn't that bad." Whatever -- I'll have the green salad. One exotic dish that I never expected to hear discussed on "Top Chef" is, well, Padma. At judges' table she definitely scored the funniest line of the episode, critiquing Brian for taking the easy way out by simply breading his eel and rattlesnake and tossing it in the deep fryer. "You could deep fry my big toe and it would be delicious," said the lovely Ms. Lakshmi, which is undoubtedly true. And which, I'm sure, sent shivers of rapture through the nation's foot aficionados.
"Top Chef" cast and veterans were a big presence at the 25th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this past weekend, the biggest festival event in the food biz. Gail, of course, runs the show for "Food & Wine" magazine, so she was everywhere. Tom was there to serve on panel discussions and schmooze. My partner Barry and I went to host a reception for Robert Mondavi Private Selection wines, for which I'm the spokesman. Ilan was there to claim one of his prizes for winning season two -- that is, a showcase cook-off against Jacques Pepin (!) -- and of course to par-tay, along with Sam. I placed a quick call on the cellie to Gail, looking to find out where the party at, as the kids say. And did we ever find it... You know you're at a first-rate foodie soiree when the bartender scolds you for ordering something boring. "All these beautiful drinks, and you want a gin and tonic?" he says to me. "Dude, you're killing me." For the third straight year of the festival, the hottest after-hours ticket has been the Two-12 Access House, a multi-bazillion dollar home in West Aspen rented out by Scott Feldman and his NYC firm, Two-12 Management. For three nights during the fest, Feldman hosts a sharply vetted list of culinary royalty, creating a refreshing, relaxing scene away from the packed grand tastings. He also arranges for a fleet of shimmery Lexuses (Lexi?) to shuttle people between the house and their hotels, all night long. The first night we crashed the joint, on Friday, we saw Jean-George Vongerichten, Thomas Keller, and legendary all-nighter Mario Batali. "Where ya goin', man?" hollered Mario as he was arriving -- and we were leaving. Hey, man, I can't keep up with these chef-type partiers.
But the best night at Two-12 was the next one: after lucking into two tix to see the fabulous B-52s rock a benefit at the Belly-Up bar downtown (Rock Lobster, Roam, Your Own Private Idaho -- yes!), we revisited Feldman's playhouse for a celebrity chef poker tournament sponsored by Foxwoods Casino. In the house, everybody from foodie and sportswear titan Marc Ecko to elegant F&W editor-in-chief Dana Cowin. At the poker table, a culinary who's who: Bobby Flay, David Burke, Jose Andres, Govind Armstrong, Ilan (in cowboy hat and shades), Sam, Tom, Ming Tsai, and David Chang. The Top Cheffers represented really impressively: at the end of the game, there were three chefs standing: Burke, Sam, and Tom. Sam folded, and then there were two.
"I got nothing!" Tom confessed, and Burke won $10,000 for the charity of his choice, Table to Table. But Tom also delivered, scoring $5K for Children of Bellevue and "Groove with Me," and Sam landed $2,500 for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Nice! Safely back in Brooklyn on Sunday, I heard that experience triumphed over youth in Ilan's cook-off against Jacques Pepin, but my hat is off to Mr. Hall just for having the nerve to share a stage with such a master. See y'all next week!