When six Denver chefs, one bartender and, for good measure, a muscled and tatted sausage emperor all trotted out of the kitchen, following a sensational multi-course, Colorado-inspired dinner prepared in a Manhattan brownstone, a woman seated at the table just adjacent to the burners stood up, applauded and declared that she'd never seen a posse of chefs having such a good time. That was the vibe on Wednesday night, when The Five, Leigh Sullivan's clan of chefs and culinary kings, congregated in the small, smoky kitchen of one of the country's most celebrated venues for culinary artistry: the James Beard House.
The fearless mob squad -- Matt Selby (Vesta Dipping Grill and Steuben's); Brandon Biederman (Steuben's), Paul Reilly (Encore), Jamey Fader (Big Red F Group and Lola), Enrique Socarras (Cuba Cuba), Tyler Wiard (Elway's Cherry Creek), Bryan Dayton, co-owner of Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder, and Mark DeNittis, who oversees Il Mondo Vecchio -- fed 75 of the country's fussiest food writers, food snobs and foodniks. And while it's a grueling (not to mention intimidating) whirlwind of prepping, schmoozing, cooking and clean-up, our homeboys came and conquered, turning out a stunning repertoire of dishes that, enthused one New Yorker (and Beard House regular), were among the best she'd ever thrust down her gullet.
Wiard, who's cooked at the Beard House seven times (including earlier this month, when he and the crew from Elway's and Elway's Downtown prepared a seven-course dinner that was was also inspired by Colorado ingredients), raised his fist in jubilation as he addressed guests, several of them Denverites who flew to New York to support their hometown chefs. "Denver has definitely made its mark on the national culinary map," said Wiard, adding that he and his fellow chefs comprise a "community that you don't often see in other cities." Denver chefs, insisted Wiard, are "brothers who cook together, support each other and have a great time together."
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I was lucky enough to experience that -- and a whole lot more -- on Wednesday night, when I jetted to New York to cover the dinner. Herewith, a photo gallery of the dishes and highlights.
Jamey Fader struts his knife skills. Enrique Socarras, chef/owner of Cuba Cuba, pauses and reflects before dinner service. The main dining room, located on the second floor of the James Beard House. Mark DeNittis, owner of Il Mondo Vecchio, preps for his passed appetizer. DeNittis served a ninth-month culatello -- the cultish prince of pork products, made from the back leg of the pig -- with one-year wild boar porcini draped over a shot of Western Slope pear brandy. Brandon Biederman and Tyler Wiard plate their passed appetizer. Biederman and Wiard served a Colorado root vegetable gratin topped with a Haystack Mountain goat cheese and wild mushroom duxelle. Encore's Paul Reilly and Jamey Fader, exec chef of Lola, wowed the crowds with their fluke ceviche with spiced oranges, pickled yams, roasted apples and pepitas. Cuba Cuba's Enrique Socarras didn't disappoint with his Blue Mountain bison tiradito with organic Tokyo turnip chips, calamansi -- a citrus fruit -- and aji ricoto. For his main course, Socarras paired Alamosa striped bass with an Olathe corn tamale, Pueblo Hatch chiles, Szechuan-heirloom tomato vinaigrette and a chive blossom salad. Encore's Paul Reilly, undeterred by the smoke, mans the burners -- and his turnip greens. Reilly and Fader served a roasted Ewe Bet Ranch leg of lamb with baby turnips, chanterelle mushrooms, lamb pancetta, braised turnip greens and a peach gastrique. Braised short ribs, courtesy of Biederman and Wiard, were plated with a pickled ramp-green tomato salad, red potatoes, champagne vinaigrette and a beef reduction. Mark DeNittis and Matt Selby's quail galantine of mortadella, mache bundle, mostarda vinaigrette and truffled pork gelee. Each of the chefs prepared a dessert, which included Riesling-poached pineapple with rosemary-infused whipped cream; Haystack Mountain goat cheesecake with guava peel marmalade; beignets rivered with Fruition Farms sheep's milk ricotta and glazed with wildflower honey; chocolate chip cookies; and a chocolate pudding with tart cherry liqueur. Bartender Bryan Dayton, who looked ridiculously handsome, poured Colorado peach bellinis. Guests weren't shy about asking Matt Selby, along with rest of the chefs, to ink their autographs on the dinner menus. As a "thank you" from the Beard House, Biederman, along with the rest of the chefs, received goody bags. A portrait painting of James Beard, the chef and cookbook author whose home is now the culinary epicenter for guest chefs, hangs prominently in the upstairs dining room. A playful Mark DeNittis posing -- and defacing -- a stone statue of James Beard, which rests in the back garden.