Locals and natives alike can agree that Denver’s food scene is thriving. For years, chefs from around the country – and the world – have flocked to Denver to share their unique culinary styles with the city and people have noticed. One of those people is Leigh Sullivan.
Sullivan is a third-generation Coloradan and grew up in Golden. Throughout her years in the restaurant industry, she has watched the food scene change dramatically. “I have travelled around the world eating great food and visiting different cities and some of the best meals I’ve ever had have been here in Colorado,” she stated. What she found was that the chefs in Colorado were on par with the chefs in many other large cities – they just hadn’t been recognized yet. Sixteen years ago Sullivan came up with an idea to bring Colorado chefs the recognition they deserved and later formed what is now known as the Colorado FIVE.
The FIVE exists to recognize some of the best chefs in Colorado on a regional and national level. Sullivan started out by bringing five chefs from Colorado to the James Beard House to cook in 2007 and since then the group has been invited back every year – the only group that has been invited back for 13 consecutive years. “It makes me really happy,” said Sullivan. While each year the group of chefs changes the mission stays the same – to highlight Colorado food.
This year’s chefs include alumnus Jim Pittenger, chef-owner of Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs; Rebecca Weitzman, former winner of Chopped and executive chef of Ivy on 7th and Logan Street; Jennifer Akina, executive pastry chef of Melted and cake artist at Azucar Bakery; Arden Lewis, executive chef of Comal Heritage Food Incubator and Josh Oakley, executive chef of Avelina. “They really come together to create a team,” stated Sullivan, “you can tell when food is made with love and that feeling is why I chose this team.”
In addition to the five chefs, Sullivan also brought together a team of three beverage directors to highlight Colorado’s wine industry. This year’s beverage team includes Jayme Henderson and Steve Steese, co-founders of The Storm Cellar, a winery in Hotchkiss, Colorado as well as Jen Mattioni, co-owner and bar manager of Q House. Sullivan decided to work with the same beverage team as last year because of the local aspect they brought to the table. “This team took a different approach and went completely local on the wine side. It was quite eye-opening. They blew my mind with what they were pouring,” said Sullivan.
In addition to cooking at the James Beard House, the FIVE will host several dinners in Denver throughout 2020 and make appearances at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Slow Food Nations, Breckenridge Food & Wine Festival, Park City Wine Festival, and Colorado Uncorked.
If you have a chance to experience a dinner by the FIVE you’ll be able to enjoy a truly local dinner by incredibly talented chefs.
Keep an eye out for all events and happenings with the FIVE on Instagram. All photography by Jeff Fierberg.