Henri and Me

In the interest of full, name-dropping disclosure, I suppose it's time I made a confession: Henri Krug is my closest companion.

That's right, the venerable head of the House of Krug (established 1843), the fifth-generation winemaker whose motto is "More than just good champagne, Krug is a lifestyle," is my best bud. We eat in restaurants all over town together, leaving somewhat the worse for Grey Goose. We spend every Sunday at my house, barbecuing and drinking bubbles (Krug, natch). And we travel to culinary locales. We just spent this past weekend at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen, where we received all the perks that the patriarch of a winemaking dynasty should attain.

To wit: A driver, sponsored by Beringer, picked us up at the airport in Vail and drove us to Aspen, but not before stopping at the closest liquor store, stocking the car with ice and wine, and blithely turning a mirrored, sunglassed eye to our violation of Colorado open-container laws. Clicquot project manager for national accounts Christopher Golub, who reps Krug among other brands, kept us supplied with hot tubs and Nobu-made sushi on the rooftop of his condo, not to mention bottles of '73, '81, and other vintage Krug. We ruled the tasting tents, where Park Avenue Café chef David Burke, who also runs Smith & Wollensky's food program, handed us a bouquet of his savory Gourmet Pops. (Just don't tell him the duck foie gras lollipop with white truffle oil, dipped in port wine-cranberry jelly and rolled in fresh chives and cracked black pepper, melted in my purse before I could eat it.) Plus, of course, we had instant access to all the hot-ticket dinners and parties of the weekend, including the Daniel Boulud, Andrew Carmellini, and Charles Dale "Food & Wine Best New Chefs Reunion" dinner at Rustique Bistro; the Gallo Family's Signature Collection book-signing honoring sommelier Andrea Immer and featuring appetizers from chef Rocco DiSpirito of Union Pacific Restaurant; and the Best New Chefs in America Dinner at the Hotel Jerome.

In fact my only disappointment regarding Henri Krug's influence was his failure to score the pink KitchenAid mixer, signed by Mario Batali, during one of the auctions. But he was too impatient to sip Bolgheri Sassicaia and then head to the private Robert Mondavi tasting in the library of the Hotel Jerome to wait for the end of the bidding.

I suppose, given the circumstantial evidence, some industry insiders might think Henri Krug and I are on, well, intimate terms. We did maintain close quarters at the Shadow Mountain condos (unit number three, which means we didn't have to hike too far up the hill like the rest of the peons). We did lick caramel body paint off each other's fingers before doing shots of port encased in bittersweet chocolate cups -- but hey, chocolatier Jacques Torres insisted we demonstrate for the rest of the crowd in the Kobrand pavilion (maximum capacity 2681). We did not show up for any breakfast events, excluding the 9:30 a.m. Krug vertical tasting at the St. Regis Hotel, sponsored by Lincoln, where we could have test-driven something luxurious and expensive like the 2003 Navigator.

Of course we weren't really shagging in front of the fireplace instead of hitting the legendary Publisher's Party at the top of the mountain on Friday night. We were just tired of schmoozing. We weren't flying in on private jets and tooling around the mountain town in a limo. Instead we commuted to Colorado in economy class, and irritated our shin splints stalking up and down the Aspen hillsides like everybody else. And, as you might have guessed, Henri Krug isn't Henri Krug after all but a decades-younger-than-Krug chef from a popular South Beach restaurant who shall, in case of husband-driven repercussions, remain somewhat nameless.

The truth is we pinched Henri Krug's credentials.

Henri Krug had an unexpected family obligation and couldn't make the event. In his stead, son Olivier moderated the Friday morning vertical tasting, leaving immediately afterward for the Aspen airstrip (it'd be too generous to call it an airport). While I had an all-access press pass, my companion's billet had been mishandled. Thus he was ticketless at a festival where security is so tight that actor and sometime Aspen resident Kurt Russell was turned away from the grand tasting tent because he didn't have a pass. What to do but send another driver after Olivier Krug's limo and liberate his father's highly respectable -- and very nearly gone-to-waste -- permit?

Since revelations of this sort don't usually sit too well with organizers of an event, it's probably pretty unlikely that I'll ever be wearing a complimentary press pass at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen in the near future. But horse-trading of credentials does happen despite the best efforts to prevent it -- when 5000 consumers, distributors, exhibitors, and volunteers gather in one place to stuff themselves with tidbits from the nation's top eateries and sample wines from every grape-growing country in the world, even folks like Henri Krug can slip through the cracks. As it is, the Aspen festival, celebrating its twentieth year, is a marvel of organization. I can only hope someone besides me sees the humor in Henri Krug solemnly testifying in his best northeastern American accent to suspicious wine snobs and credulous consumers that oui, really, he's much older than he looks.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick

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