Classical most diverse food and wine celebrates black voices and talents | News

The Food & Wine team celebrates on the Belly Up stage after Saturday night’s “Food & Wine Presents: The Onwuachi Hour” event. As the first event of its kind for the F&W Classic in Aspen, the live talk show hosted by F&W Executive Producer Kwame Onwuachi featured special guests, games and humorous commentary from Onwuachi.

On a Friday night, people gather at Hotel Jerome’s Bad Harriet bar for an after-dinner celebration at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. The intimate atmosphere was filled with talks, cocktails and soundtracks of rap legend Kendrick Lamar. Looking around the dark room, the majority of the people sharing the lively moment were black.

Sitting next to Gary Obligacion – a black man who has been in the hospitality business for 38 years and was in town for his 11th Food & Wine Classic – his pride in the surrounding scene was palpable.

“I’m sitting right now in a room full of black hospitality positives or people involved in some element,” Obligacion said. “So it feels like something you want to celebrate.”

celebrity chef f&w

Celebrity chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson cheerfully holds a glass in the air during an event at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen last weekend. Chef JJ Johnson was one of many pioneers of black wines seen at this year’s culinary event, leading the Black on Black dinner at the Jerome Hotel – a celebration of black winemakers and talent.

Like many events that began this past weekend, the representation of people of color has been remarkably noticeable—particularly among the black community. From celebrity chefs and winemakers to hospitality leaders, speakers and artists, this year’s Classic showcased more black talent in the industry than ever before.

“We’re not done, but we’ve made great progress – that’s important and we need to acknowledge it,” Obligacion said Friday in Bad Harriet. “Everyone in this room – no matter if they’re black or not, it doesn’t matter – everyone admits that this was a really great moment.”

The Bad Harriet event was an after party celebration at Jerome’s Black at the Black Chef’s Dinner. Led by Chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson of the famous Afro-Latinx, the dinner brought black stars from across the wine world to the table in memory of black talent in food and drink.

Obligacion, who is currently the director of development for the Alinea restaurant group in Chicago, worked with Hotel General Manager Jerome Patrick Davila and Chef JJ Johnson to help grow this first Black on Black restaurant for dinner and after-cocktail.

After the meal, attendees headed to the talkeasy-eque bar located under the historic Aspen Times Building. Once everyone had settled into the intimate room, Obligacion gave a short speech, inviting a diverse group of people, of different racial and ethnic identities, to meet each other and share stories.

“Because society begins here, in moments and places like this,” he said. “And it never stops.”

Having attended “Classic” for more than a decade, Obligacion said the number of people of color as part of the experiment last weekend “jumps off the page” than it has looked in the past.

“It sounds very strange and I don’t think it was intentional, but Aspen didn’t have a huge BIPOC representation in the Classic itself; they were present but not the consumers, not the trade, not necessarily the vendors. They were in the restaurants in the back of the house – it was a pretty intense event. Albedo,” Obligacion said. “This year, there is a lot of brown skin and it is beautiful. It is a big change and change.”

Obligacion said he believes there is an intent by Food & Wine magazine to connect with black chefs, vendors, celebrities and other talent and bring them into Classic programming.

Master Sommelier D.Lynn Proctor was one of many black industry leaders in attendance last weekend. Like Obligacion, Proctor was also riding in his eleventh F&W Classic in Aspen. He led two seminars, “Legendary Reds: Barolo vs Burgundy” and “Vintners Noir: Wines from Top African American Winemakers,” along with Alicia Towns Franken – also a black pioneer in winemaking.

Although Proctor wasn’t a new face to the Classic, he noted that this year has seen a slew of new faces.

“There was a picture taken in 2010 of myself, Gary Obligation to my right and two black Americans — people of color. There were four of us in 2010,” Proctor said. “There were 20 of us at one dinner tonight — not even mentioning Indians. And other colored and other distinct brown shades. It was amazing.”

After partying at a Black on Black dinner, Proctor joined the party in Bad Harriet. Amid the loud chatter and music that filled the room, speak in a slow and steady tone when discussing what this year’s event will look like.

“This is the worst I’ve seen in Aspen, and I love it,” Proctor said.

After a brief pause, he repeated his words.

“This is the worst I’ve seen in Aspen, and I love it,” Proctor said.

In addition to more Black Voice-led seminars and vendor slots being held at this year’s Grand Tasting Pavilion, official F&W events throughout the weekend brought black talent and stories — from Belly Up’s Saturday night live talk show event “Food & Wine Presents”: The Onwuachi Watch” hosted by F&W Executive Producer Kwame Onwuachi, at Aspen Meadows’ Juneteenth celebration to wrap up the weekend.

Obligacion said the intention also came from places like Hotel Jerome to bring the Black community together and celebrate this experience and influence at Classic.

While the Black on Black dinner was truly a celebratory moment and a milestone during the first culinary event, Obligacion hopes that dinners so intended will not be necessary in the future of F&W Classic events.

“I would get to a point where we don’t have to go out to dinner to celebrate black people, we just come here and celebrate people,” Obligacion said. “So what do I see in the future? We come here and there are a lot of people who are going to go different ways, we have a great time and it just doesn’t matter anymore.”

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