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Christina Grdovic and Dana Cowin on the Food & Wine Classic and 2014's Best New Chefs

Today, Eater is covering the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen live from the Eater Lounge at the Limelight Hotel. Right now: Food & Wine magazine's Christina Grdovic and Dana Cowin

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[Photo: Eater]

Tell us about this year's batch of Best New Chefs.
Christina Grdovic: Obviously we're always really excited about every year's batch of Best New Chefs, because the editors do such a good job tracking them down. But I love the way we do it now, where when you go into the Grand Tasting tents you get two dishes per grand tasting, and the chefs rotate so you spread it out throughout the weekend. So you get to taste their food and say hi to them, and then this year we have a thing where there will be fun facts about them. Like for example Matt Accarrino is riding his bike here. I don't think all the way from San Francisco —

Wait, his bicycle or a motorcycle?
CG: No, his bicycle. Apparently he was some sort of professional bike rider before he was a chef. So he's riding 70 miles across the pass. I'm excited to get to know all of them a little bit better.

Dana Cowin: And he is as obsessive as any chef I've ever met. In fact, he came to the shoot with Cryovac bags of things he had dried to give to all the chefs. It was so, so sweet. One or two bags exploded, but his food is so thoughtful, and so refined. He has people doing special caviars for him.

They're kind of an incredible group for their range. Cara Stadler, who is in Maine, she is doing Asian food and she had cooked in Beijing with her mother. She has this absolutely fascinating mother-daughter relationship. She has a great restaurant in Brunswick, Maine. That's not so easy to do, particularly if you're doing really creative Asian food.

I love the team from Ox, the Dentons. I love them! I'd like to be adopted by them. I'd like to have them cook for me every night.

Every one of these chefs has an incredible story. Paul Qui, who we've been such a fan of, from food trucks to now fine dining. It's quite a unique range. Even Roy Choi, who is brilliant on the trucks, hasn't gone all the way to the far side of fine dining yet.

Anything new with the Best New Chefs issue of the magazine this year?
DC: In the magazine, we took a completely different approach to the Best New Chefs this year. Usually you have a big picture of the food and a little stumpy profile. But the chefs' inspirations, where they get their ideas from, are so interesting that we just flipped the whole thing. So you get all of their crazy ideas, their art inspiration, the motorcycles, the bike rides, the bridges. Things that you wouldn't know otherwise that tell you about the character of the chef. And then you get a recipe.

What about the festival? What's fun, new, exciting?
CR: So a lot of things are not new but still exciting. We have the 5K again. I do it, and I'm not a runner so I sort of run/walk it. But our photographer does a really nice job of taking a picture of me coming across the finish line so I look like I run the whole thing. [Laughs] But I'm there! It's really exhilarating. Everybody's there, the chefs are there, and they really run it. They're really quite competitive.

Who's competitive?
CR: They're all competitive. I think the one that's the most intense is Marcus [Samuelsson] because he's just really fast. And then Richard Blais and Graham Elliot are big into it now. George Mendes says he's running. And then we have a couple guys on our staff who do it. One guy came in fourth last year from sea level, and I think the other one might have come in ninth. And they beat out people who are high altitude guys.

What else is exciting? To jump all the way to the end of the weekend, we're always super excited about the cook off, and this year it's Tyler Florence versus Curtis Stone… Why are you laughing, what are you thinking when I say that?

That it's the battle of the celebrity, hunky chefs. The battle of the handsome chefs.
DC: The hunks! The battle of the hunks. [Laughs] But they are excellent cooks as well.

What about the panels?
DC: I love sitting down with these chefs in conversation because I'm a little nerdy that way. I want to know what they know. I love to know their emotional connection to food. One of the conversations is food memories. So with Jacques Pepin, I want to know about cooking for the presidents of France. I want to know about opening restaurants back in the day. I want to know about his mother and the food she cooked. And what he thought about, what influences him today. And Jonathan Waxman, who has so many crazy stories to tell, and I'm not sure how many of the crazy ones we'll get. And then Marcus Samuelsson, who has such a fantastic point of view that is completely different. Like when I talk to him about food and memories, he talks a lot about diversity and that our memories of food that seem so universal are actually incredibly specific. Food memory isn't universal to all. It's so culturally based. And then he talks about the cultures and food memories he knows and brings such a great wider perspective.

And then the rebel chefs. The "bad boys of food." You know, they're not so bad. They're explosive. They don't like doing anything the way anyone else has done it, and I think that's such a great big picture idea to think about. And then, very specifically, to learn from them. You know, Sang Yoon, just talking to him about anything — I was walking down the street with him and apropos of nothing, he looks at a halal cart and says, "THAT. That is the most fascinating kitchen in the world." What? "Well, just look. All the food that's served out of this cart" — and there are pictures of like twenty things they can make — "They can make those twenty things out of something that's the size of a sofa." That is amazing! The rebel chefs rethink everything. So that panel will be exploring that thought and what it means for the future of food. That panel is Sang, Richard Blais, and Graham Elliot. For them, food is a medium. A medium like other mediums, like music for Graham.

I think it's going to be really fun to see Ali Larter and Giada De Laurentiis together. I love Ali Larter, and of course I love, know, and respect Giada. The two of them I think will be so much fun. I'm going to send everyone to see the two of them. Ali is acting as interviewer for Giada. And they're going to explore just Giada-ness. Which is a thing! Her favorite recipes, her family, her new restaurant, which she said is the hardest thing she's ever done.

I am always excited to see Jacques Pepin in action. Like to see that man with eggs, there is such an obsession with eggs in this world. If we ever do an egg Instagram or egg week, it uncovers this maybe not so hidden, but hidden to me passion that the world has for eggs. So to watch Jacques Pepin cook the world's most popular protein, I think that's going to be fun.

CG: And then we have a lot of parties. There are just more and more parties, some that are official and some that are unofficial. Probably more unofficial than ever before. We have a really amazing one at the top of the mountain on Saturday called Wonderland. We love the chefs that agreed to cook for that. Alex Stupak, Grant Achatz, Jonathan Waxman, and Richard Blais. So where Wonderland comes from is Royal Caribbean has a new ship that's launching in November, and one of its many restaurants is Wonderland. One of our past Food & Wine Best New Chefs, Neal Gallagher, is the on-ship chef. Wonderland has this very whimsical, sort of Alice in Wonderland feeling. Decor will be very whimsical, but the food will also be very whimsical. Saturday, Grant Achatz is doing something you eat out of a helium balloon, you'll eat it out of the helium balloon and you'll get the helium balloon voice. Today or tomorrow, they're going to the top of the mountain with the helium to make sure it works. They're positive it's going to work, but you never know in the altitude.

DC: To watch Grant blow up a balloon and suck it in and then everyone talks really funny, I'm looking forward to that.

And the other party at the top of the mountain has an Ireland theme, I mean obviously because Kim and Kanye just had their honeymoon there. [Laughs] The chef at the Little Nell is doing the food. Bryan Moscatello — you're going to see a theme here — the chef is also a Best New Chef. He had been at the Little Nell, left, and now came back. He's not Irish, but I did joke that I was going to introduce him as Bryan McMoscatello.

So how do you keep it new year after year? How do you keep it interesting? You do things like helium balloons. Tonight we're having a party called Pigs and Wigs. But mostly it's bringing in a lot of chefs. Not only because we try to bring in a lot of chefs, but a lot of chefs come. And that's what makes it exciting year over year.

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