Zagat: How do you feel about this year's class of Best New Chefs?
Dana Cowin: I love this year's class! They're incredible, and we choose them collectively. The editors go around the country - we argue, we fight, we agree. But I haven't gotten to taste a lot of their food, and now here I finally get to. For example, Chris Shepherd's dish today was so delicious. It was a dumpling, but it was a chewy rice cake with this amazing shredded goat. In two bites, you can understand why this person is a Best New Chef.
I really like the range we have this year. I really like Justin Cogley, who is doing very refined food that pushes that envelope. Then on the farther side is Danny Bowien who is rocking the pastrami and Chinese takeout thing. The two of them were actually next to each other in the tents, and you just think, "That's the breadth of Best New Chefs." You recognize that great cooking is happening in a very elevated way and a very democratic way.
Zagat: How has the festival evolved? How is it different from maybe 10 years ago?
Dana Cowin: This event is always the same size. We're never trying to grow it, so people's experience is always really good. They get to talk to chefs, etc. But the things that have changed are some of the types of demos that we do and the parties. We used to do a couple of parties, and now there are parties everywhere, and it makes this event much more experiential. In the past, you'd watch the demo and taste some wine, and then you'd be kind of on your own, but now we're like, "You have to have the whole experience right now!" Which I think is really really fun. Aspen the town has always been so generous and great with us, and that has been really consistent - we don't want that to change.
About 10 years ago and earlier, the people on stage were often cookbook authors, and today the chefs on stage often have TV shows or they have multiple restaurants or they come from a different perspective from way back the. I think we've maintained the diversity because even 10-20 years ago it was a little Chinese, a little American, etc. Every year we try something new. We hadn't had Spanish food before and we added José Andrés, who is so amazing - everybody wants to come see José.
Zagat: How would you say Aspen compares to SoBe and NYCWFF?
Dana Cowin: They're really different. I think that Aspen reflects the place - it's hard to get here. When you get here, it's gorgeous and small and intimate, and you get to really get in close with the talent. You really have this sense of connecting. Whereas in New York, it's kind of a citywide event and has that New York energy. SoBe has the pulse of South Beach, which means a LOT of people, and it just pops. The town is all TV and celebrity culture, and so there's celebrity culture at that event. I think they're all really great ,and I love how different they are. And that you'd actually want to do all of them because you don't see the same people at each one.
Zagat: What events are you particularly psyched for this year?
Dana Cowin: My time in Aspen is so odd, because I do these little pockets, so I kind of press my nose against the glass and say "Oh my gosh, I wish I could go to that!" Kate Krader and Jim Meehan did a cocktail seminar, and I'm so converted to cocktails by the two of them - I just wanted to sit in that seminar. And then I think Best New Chefs tomorrow night will be amazing. It's not an event, but I love sitting in The Little Nell with the fire pit and the wine. It's all about the wine.