My arrival at the welcome party for the 2011 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is a timely one: as I stroll across the street to the garden terrace of the Hotel Jerome, I realize I am in lockstep with a pair of distinctive orange Crocs. They are, of course, the fluorescent rubber shoes filled by the superstar chef Mario Batali, who stops short of the scrum at the party entrance. 'Can I go in the back way?' he asks politely of the girls at the door, who smile at him, a bit star-struck. It seems that even 'Molto Mario' can be intimidated by the hoards of food-and-wine-crazy fans who come for an all-access pass to this rarefied world. And it’s true that on this glorious summer weekend, it’s possible to mingle with the likes of Batali (Babbo, et al., including my personal favorite, OTTO; his latest venture is mega-market Eataly New York), Sunny Jin (Jory, formerly of French Laundry and elBulli), Marcus Samuelsson (Red Rooster Harlem, formerly of Aquavit), and Chris Cosentino (Incanto and Boccalone) at cooking and tasting events all over this high-altitude mountain town.
In between watching Batali cook up seafood of the Adriatic and drinking wines from Spain, I catch up with Cosentino, a master of offal who was chosen by Fergus Henderson as one of the best chefs working today for COCO, at the Grand Tasting Pavilion. Cosentino was invited to the Classic to speak about what it means to turn diners into regulars. On top of mind these days, he says, is a refocusing and refining of the vision for his work. 'Incanto just turned nine on June 2, and last year we remodeled, to bring the restaurant more in line with who I am,' he says. The sound dampeners in the restaurant are now blown-up, full-colour pictures of pigs, and there’s also an odds and ends board and antique butchery equipment from the early 1900s, pulled from Cosentino’s own collection. 'The aesthetic and personality is more modern, more like me.' But the menu, he says, is still very classic, rustic Italian, with locally sourced California ingredients: handkerchief pasta with pork ragù; trotters with foie gras, strawberries, and red clover; and pork belly with kohlrabi, purslane, and cherries.
In the upcoming year, Cosentino will work on bringing a longtime project to fruition: Offal Good, a book that tackles lessons on 'how to work with and cook with the parts that most people don’t know what to do with.' (Offal Good, is also the name of Cosentino’s blog.) 'I’ve been wanting to do a book on offal for a long time.' he says. 'Back then people thought I was crazy. Now you can’t shake a stick without hitting one of these cuts of meat.'