FIVE : A Colorado Culinary Legacy
Words & Photographs: Christine Vazquez
It’s said when traveling, if you really want to know a city, start by visiting its restaurants, street carts and cafes. This is because food is a language we all speak, and the differing dialects of the cooks and chefs who create it tell us a lot about a place. Leigh Sullivan—a restaurant consultant in Denver, who has also been a restaurateur helping conceptualize those like TAG and the beloved, and sorely missed, 975—created FIVE to express and expand the food culture of Colorado.
Every year for the past eight, Sullivan has hand-selected five of the city’s brightest chef talent to represent Denver in five local dining events. Each is hosted by one of the chefs in that year’s class at their own restaurant, with all five contributing a bite or plate representative of their personal food philosophy and style of cooking. They also go to Aspen Food & Wine, and on to the esteemed James Beard House in New York City. One of the five is typically an alumni chef, asked back from the previous class to offer continuity and show the others the ropes. This year, that chef was Aniedra Nichols of Elway’s Cherry Creek, from the all-female class Sullivan boldly selected for season seven. Others in the 2015 class were Enrique Socarras of Revelry Kitchen, Kevin Grossi of Lola, Noah French, formerly of Sugarmill and John DePierro of Bones / MiJo. The beverage team included Gerard Collier of Pinche Tacos, Table 6 Owner / Sommelier Aaron Forman, and industry consultant Travis Plakke. This year’s class was interesting in a vibrant way. Of it, Sullivan says, “It’s very rare that I see both the elements of work and play from such a dynamic group.” Past season notable chefs are a who’s who of phenomenal talent: Jorel Pierce, Tyler Wiard, Hosea Rosenberg, Troy Guard, Jenna Johansen, Ian Kleinman and Elise Wiggins, among others.
Sullivan has been able to rally the area’s talent like no one else.
Here’s what Chef John DePierro had to say about his experience as part of this year’s class: “My FIVE experience was amazing! The crew we had this year was like and now is family to me. We got along so well and really jelled as the year went along. We knew what we were thinking without speaking to one another in the kitchen, which is special.”
This is Leigh’s passion. She tapped in and created a program and structure that is repeatable year to year. She’s been able to inspire a shared vision and culture around it.
When asked what it’s meant to him from a business as well as a personal perspective to be a sponsor of FIVE, James Iacino, President of Seattle Fish Company says, “It’s an investment in our community. It’s supporting our chefs, highlighting their talent and showing off Colorado. We make sure they have everything they need to produce the dishes they want and we also want to get the best quality product in their hands. The better the food, the better the event and the more fun guests will have.” Iacino has been a sponsor of FIVE since its inception, which really says something. When asked about how he’s observed Sullivan develop this program through the years, he tells me, “This is Leigh’s passion. She tapped in and created a program and structure that is repeatable year to year. She’s been able to inspire a shared vision and culture around it.”
I asked Iacino how it feels for him to dine at the Beard House. “The history and pride you feel to be in that environment is amazing. You have to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining room, and you can see the current chefs cooking, and picture all the other distinctive chefs who have cooked in that space. There’s an energy being there; you know your fellow diners are excited too, and passionate about food. While you may dine at other places for any number of or combination of reasons—an exceptional wine list, a stunning dining room, or celebrity chef—when you’re at the Beard House, you’re there for one reason and that’s the food.”
James Beard is considered the grandfather and godfather of American gastronomy. He made his home in New York City, but was born in Portland, Oregon, and led his own cooking schools in Seaside, Oregon and NYC for thirty years, beginning in the mid-1950’s. He would surely be delighted to see the food renaissance Portland is enjoying now! His home—a charmer in Greenwich Village on 12th Street—was purchased by a former student [at the suggestion of Julia Child, no less] in the mid-80’s, after his death at the age of 81, and has been turned into a place for those who wish to support and preserve food culture. The James Beard Foundation is a professional, non-profit based there, dedicated to furthering Beard’s passion for food.
We reached out to Izabela Wojcik—James Beard Foundation Director of House Programming—to get her feelings about Denver FIVE. Having been in the role since 2002, she’s seen a lot of chefs come through the 12th Street door.
From your perspective, what has having this group of chefs come to the Beard House annually—now for the eighth year—meant to you?
I absolutely adore this event and theme and look forward to it each year; in fact, we’ve already confirmed October 13, 2016 for next year! The Denver FIVE represents a very smart concept which brings together an exciting, young, vital group of chefs from Denver to create a series of events that showcase the diverse food scene in Denver, culminating each year with a road trip to the Beard House. As this is an annual event, we are fortunate to be getting a unique view of the evolution. And with a collaborative dinner between five chefs, guests truly get to experience a variety of cooking styles and philosophies. The menu is cohesive, but still allows each chef to express themselves individually, all while showcasing the flavors of seasonal, local, Colorado ingredients.
Why are relationships / events like this so important to the James Beard Foundation?
The mission of the Beard House is to celebrate and showcase the regionalism of American cuisine, and to highlight chefs from diverse affiliations—from independent restaurants to resorts and hotels, to private sector chefs working in clubs and schools and celebrity chefs. The collaborative nature of the Denver group creates a very special and very unique dinner series; one that you could not get anywhere else. And it’s an exciting privilege to have the executive chefs of all these renowned restaurants personally cooking for our guests. But, the stories that we tell through our dinners would not be possible without the relationships that we have established with these chefs. They feel a connection to the Foundation and to the Beard House, and we make sure they feel at home. Staging events here truly is a partnership; once chefs have cooked at the Beard House they are even more inclined to want to be part of all our initiatives at the Foundation, such as hosting a benefit in their own restaurant, supporting our scholarship fund, attending our annual Food Conference, joining one of our social media campaigns, or donating an experience to our auction, just to name a few.
The FIVE menu for the Beard House visit is always exhaustive–meant to highlight and celebrate the bounty Colorado has to offer and the incredible food city Denver has become. It’s a significant way for the rest of the country to see what both are made of, and to take seriously the contributions the area has to make.
To give you a taste, here’s the menu from this year’s dinner:
Palisade Peach–Foie Gras Empanadas with Charred Onion Jam and Smoked Salt
Sichuan Sweetbreads with Furikake–Black Vinegar Reduction
Sweet Potato Biscuits with Palisade Peach Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy Butter and Duck Cracklings
Fried Indigo Rose Tomatoes with Peach Wood–Smoked Trout Mousse, Onion Jam, and Coriander Flowers
7X Beef Tartare with Caramelized Shallots, Capers, and Thyme in Parmesan Cones
BESSERAT DE BELLEFON BRUT ROSÉ NV
303 SAZERAC : LEOPOLD BROS. MARYLAND-STYLE RYE WHISKEY WITH GOLDEN MOON DISTILLERY REDUX ABSINTHE, LEOPOLD BROS. APERITIVO, COCKTAIL PUNK ALPINO BITTERS, SUGAR, AND WATER
CALL ME CAITLYN : LEOPOLD BROS. LEOPOLD’S NAVY STRENGTH AMERICAN GIN WITH PEACH STREET DISTILLERS PEAR BRANDY, GOLDEN MOON DISTILLERY CRÈME DE VIOLETTE, LEMON JUICE, MINT, AND ROCKY MOUNTAIN SODA CO. EVERGREEN ELDERBERRY
Colorado Bison Carpaccio with Olathe Corn Purée, Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese,
and Preserved Lemon–Thyme Drizzle
Dr. H. Thanisch Mosel RIESLING SPÄTLESE TROCKEN 2013
Rye Cavatelli with Kohlrabi Purée, Escargot, Chanterelles, and Anchovy Butter
Biohof Pratsch ROTENPÜLLEN Grüner Veltliner 2013
Roasted Colorado Lamb Loin with Fermented Hotchkiss Apples, Red Chiles, Charred Spring
Kite Farm Kale, and Sweet Onion Chicharrones
Vinum Cellars The Scrapper Cabernet Franc 2010
Braised 7X Beef Cheeks with Duck Duck Farms Horseradish Gnocchi, Wilted Colorado
Swiss Chard, and Pomegranate Reduction
Zuccardi Aluvional Altamira 2011
Just Peachy > Palisade Peach Shortcake with Ginger Chiffon Cake, Colorado Palisade Peaches, Tahitian Vanilla Bean Chantilly Cream, Peach Sorbet, Peach Macaron, and Baked Brown Sugar Streusel
BODEGA SANTA JULIA TARDIO LATE HARVEST TORRONTÉS 2014