Cafe Society

Part Two: Chef and Tell with Elise Wiggins of Panzano

This is part two of Lori Midson's interview with Elise Wiggins, the executive chef of Panzano. You can read the first part of Midson's interview with Wiggins here. Best food city in America: Yikes. That's hard, but I love Atlanta because of the farm mecca that surrounds it -- and because of the long growing season, chefs can get whatever fruit and vegetables they want. It's a great place for livestock, too. Then there's Seattle, where you can catch your fish right out of the water and have it on your plate that same day. The fish tastes just like ocean, and it's all right there in front of you. There's no shelf life.

Favorite music to cook by: Billie Holiday. She's sultry and romantic, which is usually how I feel when I'm cooking.

Rules of conduct in your kitchen: My staff can't come in with an attitude. If they're the least bit pissy, I won't let them on the line; they can either go home or check it. I'm really lucky, though, because the crew that I have is so congenial. We have an open kitchen at Panzano, and I insist that it be a happy place to cook -- that you must be in a happy place emotionally. I also tell everyone that I want them fat, which is why each person at every station has a spoon so they can taste the food. I can seriously turn into the devil if my crew isn't trying the food while they're cooking. I'm a Nazi about that. And If I catch someone trying to pass something over me -- and then call them on it -- their eyes turn into puppy eyes. I always tell my staff: Don't make my head pop off and land in Mississippi.

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.

Favorite Denver restaurant other than your own: Potager. It's perfectly executed food with minimal manipulation. Chef Terri Ripetto perfectly pairs ingredients and then lets them speak for themselves.

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.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson