I like food, a lot, and I'm here because I want to know how these women will go about deciding which recipes best reflect a city whose only culinary trademark seems to be the Denver omelet.
I introduce myself to Kristen Busang, the recipe-testing co-chair. She's short, blond, instantly likable, and somehow manages to fit countless nights of recipe-testing into a high-powered job as a corporate management consultant. I ask her how the group will choose from the thousand or so recipes submitted for consideration the ones that best reflect Denver.
"Fast, fresh, and simple. That's what we're looking for," Busang says. "The fussy stuff will get weeded out. If a recipe requires too much chopping, it's gone." Although she says Denver cooks have an appreciation for fine food, there are too many other enticements in Colorado for people to spend all their time in the kitchen. It's a philosophy that's hard to argue with.
Busang invites me to test recipes along with the rest of the group. I try a Roquefort and pecan cheese ball, watermelon and pineapple salsa, Gruyère dip, a stuffed spinach tortilla thingy, bruschetta, ceviche, meatballs. Most are pleasant enough, but none gives me the wowzies. Even though it's still early in the recipe-testing process, I can't help but recall Zeppelin's opinion about Denver being a place where people tend to play it safe. Plus, the recipes all seem, for lack of a better word, pretty darn white. When asked about this, Busang confirms that not a lot of ethnic recipes were submitted, adding, "We did get some Mexican and Italian dishes."
Oddly enough, this lack of ethnic diversity probably does accurately reflect the city. While a good portion of the population here is Hispanic, the overwhelming majority—68 percent—is white, making Denver one of the whitest major cities in America. (Chicago, by comparison, is 36.5 percent white; Atlanta, 37.2 percent.) Despite this, when I've asked people what they like most about Denver, a perplexing number claimed that a major selling point is the city's diversity. Who knows why? Perhaps it's because they've moved here from small Midwestern towns. Perhaps the diversity they see is not ethnic but is represented by different lifestyles and religions. Or perhaps the word "diversity" captures the surprise you experience when a group of people you assumed to be one-dimensional turns out to be far more variegated.
Which is exactly the type of surprise I'm experiencing right now. As I watch the Junior Leaguers make their way through the brandy slush, homemade eggnog, and espresso martini, the noise level escalates, the laboratory atmosphere is replaced by general merriment, and I begin to realize that Leaguers are not the prim, white-gloved housewives I assumed they would be. Most of these gals are career women, juggling jobs and families and volunteer work with a passion to help Denverites whip up a little something special in the kitchen. In other words, they're far more diverse than I expected them to be. Not only that, it's clear—as I join them in sucking down yet another brandy slush—that they are out to have a good time, and one suspects the recipes they eventually choose will somehow reflect that.