For one weekend a year, tastemakers from around the world head to Colorado for the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. For three days (Sept. 10–12 this year), chefs like Martha Stewart, Guy Fieri, Melissa King, Kwame Onwuachi, Andrew Zimmern, Rodney Scott, and Justin Chapple host a series of live cooking demonstrations while wine experts like Mark Oldman, Garrett Oliver, and Alpana Singh lead guided tastings. After that, attendees sample dynamic nibbles and free-flowing wine in the Grand Tasting Pavilion. It’s exactly as opulent as it sounds.
But it’s not just a party. The Classic has historically served as a food trends forecaster and a great place to discover talent before it gets broadly recognized by everybody else. Because many of the usual 5,000 attendees (reduced to 2,500 this year due to COVID-19 measures) are involved in the food and beverage industry, those trends are accelerated—attendees bring their new favorites home and often share them with their communities.
“Chefs exist in a sort of ecosystem, so when you see something at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, those are going to be the first signs of trends that we’re going to see throughout the industry in the next year or two,” Mary-Frances Heck, a senior food editor at Food & Wine, told Men’s Journal.
Wondering what the next big food and beverage trends will be? Here’s a look at what might be coming to your table soon.
The Biggest Food and Drink Trends to Know
1. Plant-Based Meat and Dairy Alternatives
If you were to guess what celebrity chef Guy Fieri was dishing up at his seminar, you’d likely wager that the creation would be meat-based, cheese-heavy, and wildly over-the-top. In this case, you’d only be partially correct. Fieri did make an extravagant burger—but it was entirely vegan. The patty was created from vegetables and his signature cheese sauce was crafted from flax egg, cashews, and brewer’s yeast. Even in a crowd of carnivores, it was a hit. It was also far from the only plant-based treat on offer throughout the weekend.
“I think plant-based cooking is an undeniable trend,” Heck said. “Now it’s really crave-able and chefs who traditionally haven’t hung their hat on plant-based cooking are getting into it and having fun with it.”
Cannabis has been legal in Colorado since 2014, but it has only recently begun to appear at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. This year its presence was even larger.
Lord Jones brought luxury, small-batch, hemp-derived CBD gumdrops. Ocean Spray formally debuted its new CBD-infused sparkling water, CarryOn, at the Classic. The brand has two varieties—blueberry-flavored Relax and grapefruit-forward Recover—both of which contain 20mg of CBD. And Red Belly Honey, a brand that uses bees to craft a one-of-a-kind nectar and hemp hybrid, used its honey to make some tasty venison lemongrass skewers.
“They were all striking, both for their purported health properties but also for having great taste,” Heck said.
The presence of so many CBD brands shows that the stigma that has long surrounded cannabis is diminishing, at least somewhat. It wouldn’t be surprising if more restaurants incorporated CBD-infused ingredients into their dishes.
3. Sustainable Practices
Sustainability and its synonyms have been the buzzwords du jour in the food and drink sphere in recent years. If the Classic is any indication, it’s only going to become more popular. In cooking demos, wine tastings, and within the tasting pavilion, hosts frequently touted their sustainable practices.
One of the driving factors, says Heck, is that people are generally becoming more interested in knowing where their food comes from and how it’s sourced.
The seminar that delved most deeply into sustainability was the “Wine for a Healthy Planet” seminar, led by Ray Isle, executive wine editor at Food & Wine. It explored what it means to be organic, biodynamic, and regenerative in the wine industry, whether or not that changes how the wine tastes (answer: generally for the better), and why it’s important to get climate change under control (answer: so we can continue to have good wine).
4. Premium Canned Wine
In the past, canned wines have gotten a bad rap. The earliest iterations were mass-marketed and the juice within wasn’t particularly high-quality. That’s changing, though.
“Winemakers who are really smart and really ambitious are seeing what they can do with this canned format,” Isle said, adding that there were multiple booths at the Grand Tastings that were slinging some pretty remarkable canned wines. Want to try one? Check out Sans Wine Company, which specializes in organic wines and has several canned varieties on offer.
It also plays into sustainability—canned wine has a significantly lower carbon footprint than wine that’s sold in glass bottles.
5. More Mezcal
Given the name, it makes sense that the Classic used to exclude liquor and beer, but in recent years the organizers have started branching out beyond wine. One of the most prominent alcoholic beverages at the 2021 event was mezcal (including Doña Vega above). Isle argued that there has been more public interest in the agave-based spirit recently, and Heck noted that many varieties of mezcal have gained an increased appreciation as sipping spirits.
6. Fruit- and Vegetable-Forward Desserts
Rustic apple crostata with a cheddar cheese crust, pumpkin milk pie, and red grape cake with whipped creme fraiche were a few of the desserts that domestic phenom Martha Stewart brought to the table during her seminar (aptly titled “Fruit Desserts”). But she was far from the only chef who used fruits and vegetables to make sweet treats. Pastry chef Paola Velez (who was named one of the Best New Chefs of 2021) served plantain sticky buns during one of the tasting events. Similarly, chef Thessa Diadem’s sweet potato sticky bun was used in marketing materials throughout the weekend. You might encounter similar delicacies on a dessert menu soon: Heck said she expects to see a wider variety of fruits and veggies incorporated into desserts served at restaurants in the future.
7. Elevated Comfort Food
In many restaurants, grilled cheese is often relegated to the kids’ menu. In chef Brooke Williamson’s kitchen (or more specifically, in her seminar “Not Your Mama’s Grilled Cheese”), it’s doctored up with onions caramelized in fish sauce, charred kale, and bourbon tempura onion rings. The following morning, chef Kristen Kish did a riff on another kid favorite, the fillet of fish sandwich. During her seminar, the handheld was given a fine dining execution using steamed fish, a caper sauce in place of the traditional tartar, and phyllo dough instead of a burger bun.
“[One trend is] looking at what people are really craving and giving it to them in a new and exciting way,” Heck said, adding that many flavor profiles on display at the event had elements of nostalgia and familiarity.
8. Diverse Kitchens
Every year, Aspen Food & Wine recognizes the best new chefs (past winners include chefs like David Chang, Thomas Keller, and Michael Symon). While there were some outliers previously, the list often featured mainly straight, white men. This year, however, the list includes Matt Horn, a Black pitmaster; Thessa Diadem, a Filipina pastry chef; Fermín Núñez, a Latino masa master; Angel Barreto, a Black Puerto Rican chef who helms a contemporary Korean restaurant; and Ji Hye Kim, a Korean chef, among others.
“That platform has always always tried to anticipate trends in the food world, both in terms of what’s being put on the plate and in terms of who’s putting it there,” Isle said. “If you look at this group of best new chefs and compare it to say, 20 years ago, it’s vastly more diverse. That represents a huge trend of what’s happening in the restaurant world as a whole.”
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