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2007 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen: The Future of Fine Dining

Moderator Dana Cowin; Panelists, L to R, Steve Ells, Drew Nieporent, Thomas Keller, and Tom Coliccho.

2007_06_eateraspen.jpgAs part of the Trade Program at the Classic, Tom Colicchio, Steve Ells (CEO of Chipotle), Thomas Keller and Drew Nieporent sat down to discuss the future of fine dining this morning, led by moderator Dana Cowin. In attendance, among many others, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Danny Meyer and about 1,000 restaurateurs want to grow up to be any one of these guys.

It is extremely entertaining to see four of the most successful food money makers in the world sit next to each other and make nice. Nieporent digs Colicchio, when things shift to fast food: "Can you just imagine Tom Colicchio's head on a bucket of fried chicken? Now that's a concept." Coliccho back at him, during a comparison of the food and fashion businesses: "Drew and fashion, those two things don't exactly go together." Also, nobody stepped to Thomas Keller.

On the topic of the future of fine dining, an interesting dialog was had about the lines that exist between casual dining, fast dining, formal dining and, copyright 2007 Tom Colicchio, "Fine Fast" restaurants. Fewer conclusions were drawn than important questions raised, but what was made clear is that we can expect all four of these restaurateurs to continue pushing the envelope with their concepts and their approaches. Keller may do Burgers; Drew, one could sense, was itching to get an evolved Montrachet back on its feet; and Colicchio, by simultaneously opening new locations of his highest-end Craft and lowest-end 'Wichcraft is growing in both ways. And for the operators in the crowd, is there a key to success that binds these guys? Yes: Motived, well-trained staff, extremely good relationships with their purveyors, and good margins. Money Drew saves annually because there are no tablecloths, silverware, or bread and butter at Nobu: at least $175,000.

Other takeaways include: 1) Everyone loves In-N-Out Burger; 2) Bobby Flay Loves Chipotle; 3) Tom Colicchio will open Craft Los Angeles on July 12th (just as we suspected; and 4) There was nothing about the buffet spread they put out that was going to cure any of the many hangovers present in the Hotel Jerome ballroom this morning.

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