Chef News

Chef Elise Wiggins wants you to feel good about food

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Favorite New York restaurant: I could go on and on about my favorite New York restaurants...but I love the straightforward and classic approach to food at the Spotted Pig. And I love the rustic Italian food at Babbo, which has got to be one of the only restaurants where you can serve calf's-brains ravioli and actually make money from it. Gramercy Tavern is consistently really fantastic, too, with an almost infallible, tried-and-true technique. If you order a steak at a certain temp at Gramercy Tavern, that's how you're going to get it every time.

One food you detest: Bulls' balls. I don't like the taste at all. Maybe that's why I'm a lesbian.

One food you can't live without: Louisiana hot-pepper sauce. I'll put it on pizza, eggs and on a lot of comfort foods, like red beans and rice. You can make the worst thing in the world palatable with pepper sauce.

Most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: It was 2001, and I was the executive chef at Palio, a four-diamond Westin resort restaurant in Puerto Rico. The chefs were assigned uniforms consisting of black jackets and polyester pants — pants that no one had told me needed to get stitched again because they were so cheap that they'd unravel after a couple of washings. So one day I'm leaning forward while talking to my cooks through the pass-out line with my legs spread and my butt facing the dining rooms and servers stations, and I keep overhearing the male servers saying, "Mira! Mira!" which means, "Look! Look!" But every time I'd turn around, they'd quickly turn away and act like nothing had happened. Finally, a female manager from another restaurant whispered in my ear, "Nice ass!" I thought she was joking and shrugged it off, but she said, "No, no, your pants are split and you can see everything!" I jolted upright, threw my hands around to my backside and completely felt everything exposed from the top of my belt loop to the very middle of my crotch where the seams are sewn together. The kicker was that I wasn't wearing underwear. It's hysterical when I think about it now, but when it happened, I was mortified and wanted to crawl into a hole.

What you'd like to see more of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Creative gluten-free dishes. Celiac disease and wheat allergies are on the rise, and more and more people are being diagnosed every day. Wheat's in so many things — ice cream, Tabasco, soy sauce, Twizzlers — and we're putting way too much of it into our bodies, and our bodies are starting to reject it.

What you'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint: Use of products that have pesticides and hormones, and genetically modified foods.

Denver has the best: Ethnic food. I really love Denver's authentic little pockets of ethnic restaurants. Sahara, El Taco de Mexico and Little India's are some of my favorites.

Denver has the worst: Cajun French. I'm not talking about places like Bayou Bob's or Lucile's (love their biscuits, though), but about refined Cajun/Creole food — that collection of old and different cultures that are fused together.

Favorite cookbooks: Pork and Sons, by Stéphane Reynaud; Bones: Recipes, History and Lore, a cookbook by Jennifer Mclagan that uses alternative parts of the animal that most people have never even thought to use; The Splendid Table, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, because all the recipes have a history behind them and the Italians are wonderful storytellers; and Raw Food: Real World, a cookbook by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis that teaches you how to get full nutrition with full flavors from raw foods. It's also a book that really challenges me to use different techniques at the restaurant.

What show would you pitch to the Food Network? I'd love to do a show that's a cross between The Great Race and Top Chef. Chefs would be dropped off in one country with a limited amount of money and have to travel to another country to cook the ultimate meal, while collecting exotic ingredients along the way that they'd also have to transport to their final destination. No travel by car or plane would be allowed, so the chefs would have to get to each country by motorcycles or rail or kayaks — all without letting their food perish. They'd have 48 hours to accomplish this, and that would include the time it takes to prepare the final meal. The other kicker is that each contest would utilize a different cooking method.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson