Thursday, June 14, 2007

drinking at 8,000 feet

June 14

I've been told that high altitude affects a person's ability to hold alcohol. I think that makes sense scientifically, but I had never experienced it, until tonight.
Maybe it was the three ice coffees I had on my drive from Denver to Aspen -- one in Golden, one in Frisco and one in Leadville -- maybe it was part of the unjustifiable anxiety I felt in driving above the tree line to get over Independence Pass, or maybe it was just one of those things you hear about when people feel woozy at high altitude, but I didn't feel right after that first glass of Champagne in the "green room" of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen (it used to be the Classic at Aspen, but I was told today that they changed it two years ago).
The green room was in lieu of the usual gift bags; you just went there and took whatever merchandise the sponsors had laid out for media and VIPs to take. I filled my bag with chazerai to give to my family in Denver, sipped Champagne and felt woozy.
So at the opening reception I drank water before having a glass of wine. Then I had more water and chatted with people (including Steven Holt, who used to do PR for the Jerome Hotel and took me under his wing at my first Food & Wine Classic, which was at Aspen, but now Steven is at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek, where the fourth Spago will open sometime soon; you learn something new every day) before sampling a Manhattan made from a high-end single malt.
I was feeling better by the time I climbed into the front seat of a Lexus that had been hired to take invitees to the Wines from Spain party, where Jose Andres and his crew were cooking, and also slicing sausages and thin pieces of jamon iberico. I chatted with local Aspen press, and with wine consultant Steve Olson and a bunch of other people, while drinking wine and neglecting my water, until someone collapsed on the floor and had a brief siezure. She recovered quickly and seemed coherent, but it was a reminder of the need to stay hydrated.
An ambulance was called and I went downstairs for some of the Spanish bottled water that had been imported for the party.
Many tall people in the right clothing and with a lot of gel in their hair were at the party. I wondered who they were and where they came from. I suppose I could have asked them, although you have to choose your words carefully in such situations.
Instead I hung out with New York journalists, eating pork products, gazpacho shooters and oysters with lemon "air." One of those journalists, Amy Cortese, suggested we repair to the Little Nell, where word had it that a party featuring American caviar was afoot.
We wandered over there while Rachel Wharton of the New York Daily News and I expressed outrage at deceptive food marketing (like the fruit-pops I saw in Denver that were marketed as having only 19 calories per ounce; soda only has 13 or 14 calories per ounce).
We got to the Little Nell early and lay on the recliners around the pool until the party started.
Then I ate domestic sturgeon roe and French trout roe while drinking Tokai Friuliano and noticing more tall, fair-haired people. But these looked less like socialites and more like people I went to high school with in Denver -- stereotypical Coloradans with sandy-brown hair and an apparent readiness to go snowboarding or mountainbiking at any moment.
I got in line for more Tokai and was greeted by Ti Martin of the Brennan clan (the New Orleans Brennans, first family of American foodservice). We hadn't seen each other since the last time we were in Aspen, several years ago, and neither of us had been to Aspen since. Ti said her plans had been scuttled by "that stupid hurricane."
But she said everything was coming back together. I wanted to talk more about Katrina, but she changed the subject and we exchanged our opinions on a variety of matters, such as the Tokai we were drinking and the cooking of Grant Achatz.
Soon, however, I was aware of my parched throat and the need to rehydrate. I excused myself and began my search for water as Chris Lee, the chef of Gilt, arrived with his wife Melissa and sommelier Jason Ferris.
"Are you staying or going?" Chris asked. As I squawked about my need for water Melissa sent me to my hotel, which is where I went.

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