Chef News

Elise Wiggins Launches Brunch at Cattivella While Preparing to Help Feed Ukrainian Refugees

Elise Wiggins is ready to help Ukrainians any way she can.
Elise Wiggins is ready to help Ukrainians any way she can. Jennifer Koskinen
This month marks the five-year anniversary of Cattivella, the Italian restaurant in Central Park owned by Else Wiggins, who funded the project herself after heading up the kitchen at Panzano for over a decade. Although the restaurant briefly offered brunch when it first opened, at the time it proved a difficult sell in the still up-and-coming neighborhood.

Now, though, the area is bustling, and Wiggins is ready to share one of her passions with Cattivella's guests. "I love breakfast, and one of my pet peeves is not having eggs or omelets cooked correctly," she explains.

On April 16, Wiggins and her staffers, who have been busy perfecting the art of the omelet, will launch a new brunch menu, available from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The inaugural brunch will also be a fundraiser for Ukraine, with 10 percent of the proceeds going to World Central Kitchen, the José Andrés-led organization that is on the front lines, helping to feed Ukrainian refugees.

Soon Wiggins will be there, too, though the exact plans are in flux as the situation on the ground changes. Originally, she was set to join the World Central Kitchen efforts in Lviv, but after that city was bombed, she was reassigned to Poland, then to Madrid, where help is needed to load refrigerated trucks taking food to those in need. Wherever she lands, though, she is prepared to go for at least a week and up to a month in May.
MARK ANTONATION
Mark Antonation
"I don't have kids," she says. " And I know a lot of people want to do things but they can't, but I can physically do it. If I can do something to help somebody, I do." Wiggins does have one personal connection to Ukraine — a former employee whose mother is still living in the country. But for her, the motivation to help runs deeper.

"Politically, the world has me shaken up. It scares me," she admits. "I politically believe that Putin is part of the disinformation that's here, and we've got to stop it. ... I was literally, in the beginning [of the attack on Ukraine], like, 'I'm gonna go fight.' I'm scrappy. I was raised up hunting. I'm gonna fight."

Another motivator: the past two years. "With COVID, we were just helpless. We could not help ourselves," she recalls. "We were waiting on a vaccine. The only thing we could do is mask up. We were just in fear, and it was just this state of being completely immobilized." Going to help Ukrainians is "going to feel so good," she adds, "because I feel like I'm part of the solution."

Wiggins also feels totally confident in her team, which is supportive of her upcoming trip and ready to bring her brunch vision to life without her on site. The new menu includes a lineup of omelets, of course. "I just love tender eggs, French style," she says. "The secret of training these guys is that the eggs do go into a hot pan, but then you cut that off and you're shaking, shaking until it sets. That way the egg is so tender; there's no brown."
click to enlarge Cattivella's brunch launches on April 16 with a fundraiser for Ukraine. - DANIELLE LIRETTE
Cattivella's brunch launches on April 16 with a fundraiser for Ukraine.
Danielle Lirette
The omelets will be offered with a variety of fillings, including a spring vegetarian version with spring peas, baby spinach, asparagus, fresh dill, mint, basil, pickled roasted red peppers and Cotswold, a double Gloucester cheese with chives and green onions. "It's like the garden is in there," Wiggins notes.

There's also the cacciatore omelet, with housemade rotisserie wild boar and rabbit confit along with ubriaco cheese, leeks, shallots, mushrooms, tarragon and marinated tomatoes, and another with rotisserie short ribs. "I like to cook in layers, so it's just an explosion of flavors," Wiggins says. "[Guests] won't even miss a steak omelet, because this is better."

There will be non-egg dishes, too, including brioche French toast stuffed with either cinnamon roll cream cheese or Nutella, pastas like lamb ragu, a variety of pizzas, and starters such as baked Fontina cheese, charbroiled oysters and calamari.

"It's awesome. It's got me really excited," Wiggins says of the new brunch menu.

And it's got us really, really hungry.

Cattivella is located at 10195 East 29th Drive and is open for dinner from 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Brunch will be served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday starting April 16. For more information, visit cattivelladenver.com.
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin