See also: - Six kick-ass Denver chefs, a stellar mixologist and one meaty sausage slinger: Foodography from the James Beard House dinner in New York - Start spreading the news: The Denver FIVE bring their Mile High culinary magic to the James Beard House in New York - Restaurateur Leigh Sullivan on the making, evolution and success of the Denver chef clan known as The Five
This is the sixth year of FIVE, the brainchild of Sullivan, a former restaurateur, who, along with her ex-husband, Troy Guard, opened TAG and TAG RAW BAR on Larimer Square and several more (now-closed) restaurants, including Nine75, Ocean and Emogene.
Sullivan, who says she "hatched" the Five concept after watching five chefs in the kitchen of Vesta Dipping Grill bantering about food, has always maintained that the Denver dining scene is better -- much better -- than many people perceive, and it's that drive, she says, to solidify Denver as a formidable restaurant landscape, that continues to motivate her. "I'm a lifelong restaurateur and restaurant guru, and I've traveled and dined at restaurants all around the world, but the fact of the matter is that I've had much better meals in Denver than in San Francisco, New York, and even Paris, and when I conceived FIVE, it was, first and foremost, because I wanted to showcase all of the amazing talent that we have in this city," she explains. And she admits, too, that she wanted to give Guard, to whom she was married for several years -- the two formed Sullivan Restaurant Group together -- an opportunity to strut his own culinary flair in a city where he was a relative unknown.
"Troy moved here from New York -- he was an outsider -- and I wanted him to be accepted into the Denver chef community. I wanted him to have a platform to showcase his talent and play in the same arena as the other great chefs in Denver," she says. Since the first crop of FIVE chefs -- Guard was in that first group -- Sullivan has worked closely with dozens more -- thirty to be exact.
FIVE, she says, contrary to what some may claim, is not an "elitist fraternity of chefs." The night she had dinner at Vesta and witnessed the chefs in the kitchen having a "bro moment and completely bonding over food," she reiterates, was a "magical aha! moment that simply made me realize that I wanted to do something that would show all of those other cities that Denver's chef community is doing amazing things in this city -- and Goddammit, we're right up there with the best of them."
And this year's platoon, she says, are "chefs who have really, really shaped my dining experiences in Denver."