Since the dawn of summer, it would seem not a single weekend has passed without there being a food festival of some kind gracing the city’s streets. All of them celebrated local chefs and brought out some of the more creative dishes Denver’s most qualified cooks had to offer. Harvest Week has the same focus, if not amplified.
For 12 years, EatDenver has celebrated Harvest Week with a multi-day event showcasing not only local talent but paying homage to the unified desire to support and forward sustainable dining. From October 6 – 10, the team returned in collaboration with The Growhaus — a multi-layered urban farm that provides community outreach, diverse agriculture and a wide array of produce distributed both to restaurants and the neighborhood. Besides the meaningful partnership, Growhaus’ location is really what makes this event special. The dinner series set right in the middle of the greenhouse — an inner-city oasis that one volunteer described as “arriving at an Eden.“
Each of the five dinners featured communal-style dining and every night sold out the 160-seat event within a day of going on sale. Diners were encouraged to serve each other, and before the first course guests were told to look at least three of their table-mates in the eye and express gratitude for the opportunity to share the coming meal. In different hands, the exercise could come across hokey, but the overwhelming sincerity of both the attendees and the venue gave the practice real viability. What followed was a five-course meal that acted primarily as a stage for people to share ideas, develop genuine connections and remember just how meaningful a shared supper has the potential to be.
The list of participating heavy-hitters was dense. The rundown was a friendly reminder of just how collaborative the Denver dining scene has continued to be — despite the last five to 10 years’ rapid growth. Seeing these top chefs gracefully collaborate was moving. The last night alone saw participation from an all-star cast featuring Vesta, Citizen Rail, Super Mega Bien, Bistro Vendome, Bistro Georgette, Senor Bear, Root Down, Laws Whiskey, Carboy Winery, Ratio Beerworks, Teakoe, Happy Leaf Kombucha and Stem Ciders.
Each night’s menu was different, with the closing ceremony purposefully serving dishes that used ingredients that may have otherwise been discarded. Vesta’s imperfect Palisade peach salad combined the fruit with fennel tops, crispy toasted millet, milk curd and beat gastrique. Super Mega Bien brought a butternut squash curry shrimp soup complete with jasmine rice, jalapenos and cilantro. The piece de resistance — courtesy of Bistro Vendome — was a poached quenelle de poisson that saw halibut laboriously pressed through cheesecloth to produce a robust mousse with all the oceanic flavors delivered in an otherworldly texture.
The event’s popularity seems justified. Long lines were replaced with cordial conversation and ubiquitous gratification. While diners were encouraged to bring their own plates, those who forgot or were uninformed were met with fresh dining ware. As the unexpected snow supplied a decisive close to the harvest, the meals were a palpable reminder of food’s seasonality. Chefs smiled and toasted and as patrons shivered to their cars, all the while Denver’s food culture drew just a touch closer.
All photography by Brittany Werges.