Leigh Sullivan announces the 2014 FIVE lineup -- and they're all fabulous females!

Categories: Cafe Society

Lori Midson
The FIVE chefs of 2014: Nadine Donovan, Aniedra Nichols, Carrie Shores, Elise Wiggins and Jenna Johansen.

Five women strong. That's the overriding sentiment behind the FIVE class of 2014: Nadine Donovan (Old Major), Aniedra Nichols (Elway's Cherry Creek), Carrie Shores (Table 6), Elise Wiggins (Panzano) and Jenna Johansen (Epicurean Group), all of whom have been tapped as the chefs who will lead PR consultant Leigh Sullivan's brigade of kitchen magicians in 2014.

See also: Start spreading the news: The Denver FIVE bring their Mile High culinary magic to the James Beard House in New York

FIVE, now in its seventh year, is Sullivan's self-described "passion project," and it's the first time in its seven-year history that an all-woman group has been chosen to represent Denver in a multitude of culinary events that span from Aspen to New York City, where the FIVE gather in the kitchen of the James Beard House in September to cook for the culinary cognoscenti.

"I'm super-excited to work with all these amazing, strong females, and I'm even more excited to see what they have up their sleeves," says Sullivan, whose own pillar of strength was shattered late last year when Jeff Parr, her friend and business partner in Leigh Sullivan Enterprise -- and an integral part of FIVE -- suddenly passed away in his sleep on December 21. "With the continuation of FIVE, we're keeping Jeff's legacy going, and we're planning to give away scholarships in his name to honor that legacy," says Sullivan.

And the females of FIVE -- some of whom worked closely with Parr -- will be right behind her. Nichols, for example, who has been in the kitchen of Elway's for several years, alongside chef Tyler Wiard, an original member of FIVE, spent a lot of her spare time cooking with Wiard at several FIVE events. "Aniedra was essentially a part of FIVE for the first five years, always helping out Tyler, and it just made sense to have her be a part of this all-female group, plus she's just awesome," says Sullivan

Wiggins, notes Sullivan, was also a favorite chef of Parr. "Elise was his girl," she says. "He loved her, and so do I. She's a total badass, and I'm so impressed by her food and the way she takes command and can handle any situation. She's completely blows me away"

Sullivan first met Shores, who was recently named the executive chef of Table 6, when former exec chef Scott Parker departed to oversee the line at Session Kitchen, at Pablo's Coffee, where Sullivan says they completely hit it off. "It just felt right, and she's worked really, really hard to get where she's at, and I really respect that. She's fierce," notes Sullivan.

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WillieStortz topcommenter

With the laughing stock of a disaster that the last FIVE turned into I guess they needed a gimmick to keep this gimmick going.

TheFabulousMarkT topcommenter

(NOTE - Please understand that this is not a slam on this particular article. I have seen what I'm about to refer to in many, many periodicals, and just thought this was a good time to broach the subject).

Now, this may not be a terribly popular opinion :) But I'm reminded of a comment Joni Mitchell made back around 1997. She said -

"One guy came up to me and said, You're the best female singer-songwriter in the world.' I was thinking: What do you mean female? That's like saying you're the best [very outdated racial term].'"

My point is that - it's great that these folks have achieved this, but why don't we just refer to them as "the 2014 FIVE winners"? Why bring their gender into it at all, unless their uteri/ovaries/etc. have a direct bearing on their cooking ability (if this is true, I'd love to hear about it). :D

I mean, would we say, "Oh wow, look - there are three Colorado chefs on The Next Food Network Star and they all happen to be black people!"?

Just my $0.02....

Mantonat topcommenter

@TheFabulousMarkT What Joni Mitchell is objecting to is the notion of "pretty good, for a woman." There's a big difference between that and celebrating how hard women have to work in the restaurant industry just to get noticed, much less applauded.

TheFabulousMarkT topcommenter

@Mantonat@TheFabulousMarkT I definitely see your point but in all my (considerable) years of being a Joni fan my impression has always been that she has never wanted her gender to even be a subject of discussion when evaluating her artistic capabilities. She wants to be known as "a musician", not "a woman musician".

My point was just that (in my mind) by bringing gender/race/what-have-you into these sorts of discussions one may run the risk of achieving the exact opposite of what one is setting out to do. If we highlight the chef's ethnicity/preferences/whatever, and bring that to the forefront of the discussion, then that (completely unintentionally/subconsciously) may put it in people's minds as an evaluatory criteria, when it should not be. You're either a good chef, or you are not.

PS I know that I'm approaching this subject from a certain perspective. Yes, I'm male, and porcelain-white. I'm also not mentally well :D So the perception may perhaps be that I'm not the best person to comment in this case. To which I can only say... oh well!

TheFabulousMarkT topcommenter

@Mantonat @TheFabulousMarkT As long as that's the case, then I have no issue with the accolades. :)

Mantonat topcommenter

@TheFabulousMarkT Being a white male doesn't invalidate an opinion, as long as understanding and empathy shape that opinion, along with critical thinking.

This Denver Five thing is about recognizing talent and contributions to the Denver food scene. Women are often overlooked because it's such a boys club. There's nothing wrong with a PR group recognizing the accomplishments of a group of women for a change, especially since nobody seemed to care in those years when it was all men.

It really isn't the same thing as saying "your pretty good, for a woman." There has been and continues to be a real and measurable gender bias in this country, so we have to challenge the received wisdom about who is deserving of praise and recognition.

Ultimately, this is not about naming the best chefs in Denver, so it's not excluding men or pitting men against women, or setting up a double standard. Its a PR/Marketing company's attempt to highlight excellent food in Denver. They've chosen all-male groups in the past; this time they've decided to select an all-female group. They all represent great restaurants and make great food.

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