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Elite food festivals offer unique experiences for the wealthy

Those who can afford it demand celebrity chefs and private wine tastings in rarely visited cellars and other experiences that are off the menu to most of the public.

ASPEN, Colo.—Kristine Price Dozier squealed when she saw the email.

Dozier, an international trade consultant, her husband and another couple had already spent around $20,000 on hotels, travel and tickets to attend the 35th annual Food & Wine Classic35th annual Food & Wine Classic, a four-day festival of celebrity chef demonstrations, parties and wine tastings held in June in this Rocky Mountain enclave.

But there was one thing money could not buy, and that was the thing she wanted most.

Two weeks before the festival, the approximately 4,000 people who had purchased basic passes (for $1,550 each) or VIP passes ($4,000) had been informed that they could be among 100 diners admitted to a secluded mountain meadow taping of Top Chef, the Bravo reality show.

A quick response was required. Dozier’s group, all of them from Texas, replied within 35 minutes, but it was not until June 15, the day before the taping, that they received the good news via email: “You are invited to a special dining event.”

“Kristine squealed,” her friend Tiffany Finn, a dentist, said at the taping, green grass on her shoe heels as she sampled an asparagus dish that had been handed to her by a “cheftestant” from Top Chef.

It takes something extra special to goose the appetites of the most discerning food folk these days, whether it is seeing the Top Chef stars Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons stride past as they discuss what hazelnuts add to a dish, or an experience even more exclusive.

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