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Aspen Food & Wine Classic Honors Contributions of Black Artists & Chefs

| Super User | Bespoke

People gathered at Hotel Jerome's Bad Harriet bar late on Friday night for a post-dinner celebration in honor of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

Conversations, cocktails, and songs by rap legend Kendrick Lamar filled the cozy setting. Around the dimly illuminated space, the bulk of those taking part in the lively moment were Black.

Gary Obligacion, a Black man who has worked in the hospitality industry for 38 years and was in town for his 11th Food & Wine Classic, was clearly proud of the neighborhood.

Obligacion stated, "I'm sitting in a room right now that is full of Black hospitality professionals or people working in some element. Therefore, it seems like something to rejoice over.”

Celebrity Chef JJ Johnson joyfully raises a glass in the air while participating in a gathering during the Aspen weekend. At this year's culinary festival, Chef JJ was one of many Black industry executives who presided over the Black on Black dinner at the Hotel Jerome, which honored Black winemakers and talent.

The representation of people of color was remarkably noteworthy, especially within the Black community, like many activities that started during the weekend. More Black talent in the industry was on display at this year's event than ever before, including celebrity chefs and winemakers as well as hospitality professionals, lecturers, and performers.

Obligacion remarked on Friday at Bad Harriet, "We're not done, but we've made substantial progress - that's essential and we need to acknowledge that. Everyone in this room is realizing that this is a pretty fantastic moment, whether they are Black or not, doesn't matter."

The Bad Harriet event acted as an after-dinner celebration for the Black on Black Chef's Dinner at the Hotel Jerome. Obligacion collaborated with the hotel’s General Manager Patrick Davila, Chef JJ, and the Alinea restaurant group in Chicago to create the first-ever Black on Black dinner and post-cocktail party.

After dinner, guests went to the speakeasy-style pub nestled below the iconic Aspen Times building. Obligacion gave a brief statement once everyone had settled into the small space and invited the diverse group of people, of different racial and ethnic identities, to get to know one another and exchange stories.

As he explained, community begins in places and circumstances like these, and it never ever stops.

Obligacion also stated that compared to previous years, the number of persons of color present for this year’s event "jumps off the page."

Although it seems unusual and likely not done on purpose, Aspen did not have a significant BIPOC presence in the classic itself; they were present, but not as attendees, members of the trade, or necessarily merchants. It was a pretty white celebration, and they were in the restaurants in the back of the house, according to Obligacion. "There is a lot of lovely brown skin this year. It's a change, and a big change at that.”

Obligacion asserted that he believes Food & Wine Magazine made an effort to connect with Black chefs, merchants, celebrities, and other talent in order to include them in the event's programming.

One of the numerous Black industry professionals present this past weekend was Master Sommelier DLynn Proctor. Proctor was competing in his 11th F&W Classic in Aspen, much like Obligacion. He co-led two seminars with Alicia Towns Franken, another Black wine industry pioneer, on "Legendary Reds: Barolo vs Burgundy" and "Vintners Noir: Wines from Top African American Winemakers."

Proctor was not a new face to the classic, but he did mention that he had seen a lot of new faces this year.

“A picture of me, Gary Obligacion on my right, and two other Black Americans and people of color was taken in 2010. In 2010, there were four of us," Proctor stated. “There were 20 of us at the supper table tonight, not including Indians, individuals of other races, or other excellent hues of brown. It's been incredible.”

Proctor joined the party at Bad Harriet after being honored at the Black on Black banquet. He talked about what this year's event looked like in a quiet, steady voice, amidst the loud chatter and music that filled the room.

Proctor declared, "I love it. This is Aspen at its blackest.”

He paused for a few moments before saying it again.

Proctor declared, "I love it. This is Aspen at its blackest.”

The official F&W events throughout the weekend put Black talent and stories front and center, from Saturday night's live talk show event at Belly Up titled "Food & Wine Presents: The Onwuachi Hour" hosted by F&W Executive Producer Kwame Onwuachi to the Juneteenth celebration at Aspen Meadows to wrap up the weekend. This year, there were also more Black voices leading seminars and holding vendor slots in the Grand Tasting Pavilion.

Obligacion claimed that the intention to unite the Black community and recognize its accomplishments and influence at the Classic also emanated from places like Hotel Jerome.

Obligacion believes that intentional feasts like the Black on Black supper won't be required in future F&W Classic events, even if it was a momentous occasion and milestone during the premier culinary event.