Leigh Sullivan makes food things happen in Denver.
And New York City.
And the best food thing she’s made happen – which is no small thing, given she’s helped conceptualize restaurants like Tag and Tag Raw Bar, and the beloved, and sorely missed, 975 – is Denver FIVE.
Each year, for the past 6, Leigh has hand-selected the city’s best chef talent to represent Denver in 5 local dining events [each hosted by one of the five chefs in that year’s group], at Aspen Food & Wine, and with the year culminating having the group represent Denver – a city Leigh was born and raised in, and one she truly loves – to cook a serious, multi-course dinner at the esteemed James Beard House in New York City.
Leigh is a friend of mine, so there is bias I can’t deny, but our friendship grew out of a mutual respect for what we each were doing with our work, and so I can write this with a fair amount of impartiality, because I already had a deep respect for her contributions.
The majority of chefs in our city, and across the country, are men.
The restaurant culture is decidedly masculine.
And yet, Leigh has managed to bring a woman’s sensibilities to rally the area’s talent, and also build a successful consulting business in the process – LSE, or Leigh Sullivan Enterprises.
I admire this in a woman, friend or not.
Last night I attended a FIVE Event – a Luau – held in the spectacular space having housed District Meats, at 16th and Wazee.
We got a lei as we entered, which was playful and set a relaxed tone.
This year’s five are: Ian Kleinman, Brian Laird, Jorel Pierce, Matt Selby and Sean Yontz.
Bar talent includes Jonathan Greschler, Brian Smith and Travis Plakke.
Part of the fun of attending a FIVE event is getting to see such talented chefs and bartenders, up-close and personal.
They’re not hidden back in a kitchen or stuck behind the bar all night – they’re on the floor, engaging and interacting too – which is a special thrill.
The bar was fully stocked, with 2 stations and bartenders at each, making tropical drinks [complete with cocktail umbrellas], and a wine station offering a couple of roses and a Riesling.
There was a whole roasted pig as the centerpiece of the buffet, which was quite a sight, and one I’d never seen before.
There was spam, by the ridiculous talent, Ian Kleinman, that people thought was pork belly.
It was that good.
There was an array of stunning, fresh fish dishes like poke, and sushi grade tuna and salmon.
If the true definition of feast is to eat and drink sumptuously, this was a literal feast.
Lavish. Grand. Gorgeous.
The FIVE James Beard Dinner is coming up, on September 12.
The menu is exhaustive – as it should be when representing such an incredible food city as Denver has become.
It includes 5 hors d’oeuvres and 5 courses, all with wine and cocktail pairings.
It highlights many of our beautiful Colorado products, including: morels, honeycomb, lamb sweetbreads, newsham pork, rabbit and bass.
It’s a way for the rest of the country to see what we’re made of, and to take seriously, the contributions this area of food and cooking talent has to make.
For more information on the James Beard House event, visit here [even if you can’t attend, a look at the menu is great reading regardless!]: