FIVE Colorado is Leigh Sullivan’s growing collection of chefs that are brightening the local food industry with their unique approach to the trade. Sullivan — a Coloradan all her life and restaurant industry veteran — was inspired by the talent and community being built among the mountains. Understanding Denver didn’t always get the same attention as Los Angeles or New York, she put together this program to help raise up Colorado’s best. Thus, the FIVE has prospered.
Originally, the identified chefs were brought to the James Beard House to meld their creative minds together for one glorious night of cooking but now it includes sharing their gifted talents with Coloradans. Together they will put on a five-part dinner series in Denver that highlights Coloradan fare as an amuse-bouche to headliner events — the Vail Wine & Food Festival and the Breckenridge Wine & Food Festival.
The newest lines up sparks excitement as the community continues to stand strong against all the troubles that resulted from the pandemic. It is a thoughtful mix of both alumni and recent additions to the Denver food scene. They represent the hope for 2021 of diversity, creativity and excitement.
Arden Lewis — of Comal Kitchen Food Incubator — is invited back for his second year to unite with other Colorado greats. As a Trinidadian immigrant, he made his way through New York’s battleground of kitchens. After refining his technique in New York, he came to Denver to explore a new venture at Comal. Dubbed as a “food incubator,” Comal is more than a day-time eatery. It feeds immigrant trainees the knowledge of how to cultivate their culinary talents and foster entrepreneurial skills for them to set out on their own journey.
A humble curry spice blend represents Tajahi Cooke’s first integration into the food scene which draws from the flavors that touched his soul from the start. It’s a tribute to his grandmother’s story and tells her food journey from India to Jamaica. He worked in kitchens around Denver but has partnered with an industry great — Frank Bonanno — to bring a monthly supper club series to French75. Here he unites with other local chefs to cultivate a one night only menu exploring each of their diverse backgrounds yet commonality in Colorado fare.
Jacob Bickelhaupt comes to the FIVE from Chicago, and not without controversy. The former Michelin starred chef pled guilty to battery against his ex-wife and former business partner after a violent incident in 2017. He later sued her for libel. He dropped the charges after facing backlash. Since becoming sober and moving to Denver, Bickelhaupt has expressed hopes of moving past the incident and has since started an intimate pop-up dining series, Konro, here in the Mile High City. The pop-ups focus on elevated dining experiences featuring 12 courses that are revealed only 24 hours before in order to create an immersive night.
Natascha Hess broke into the Colorado food scene with her love of Asian culture. Starting off as a food truck, The Ginger Pig has a newly opened storefront in the Berkeley neighborhood of Denver. Even after leaving the streets, her food is representative of the flavors her host family offered during her stay in China and the cultures she explored while there. Her studies of Asian cuisine allow her to relive those times through food and offer new experiences to the people of Denver.
The final addition is another FIVE veteran, Josh Oakley of Avelina in downtown Denver. He currently resides in the city after popping around mountain towns and absorbing all that goes into Colorado dining. Oakley is familiar with farm-to-table dining and enjoys looking at how to incorporate local ingredients from bright vegetables to whole hogs. While not originally from the state, his cooking continues to embody the Coloradan spirit.
In addition to the FIVE chefs, Sullivan also highlights three beverage industry experts. This season the beverage duo of Jayme Henderson and Steve Seese from Storm Cellar Winery makes the team while Jen Mattioni from Ash’kara rounds out the roaster.
Colorado stood strong during the past woes of 2020 and has come out with this team of five chefs and three beverage industry experts to revitalize the fun and flavor that Colorado holds. With community in mind, a portion of the proceeds from each diner will help support the local charitable causes of Pepper’s Senior Dog Sanctuary and Firefly Autism.
The FIVE are already at work with only a month before their first performance in the kitchen. Oakley will take the lead by bringing the group to Avelina to begin their adventure.
Tickets and info on the May 17 dinner can be found here.