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If you’re looking for further proof that Denver is a culinary destination on the rise, here you go: ChefsFeed Indie Week, a national dinner series, has picked the Mile High City as one of six locales for its 2018 tour.
“We try to do a mix of large, medium, and small markets,” says organizer Grover Smith. “Denver kept coming up over and over.” The other 2018 cities are Houston, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; Richmond, Virginia; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Portland, Oregon.
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The four-day event (October 25 to 28) will bring 18 chefs from around the U.S. and Canada to Denver. They’ll be joined by six local toques, including event host Gregory Gourdet, culinary director for Departure Denver Restaurant & Lounge, and Matt Vawter, chef de cuisine at Mercantile Dining & Provision. (The chefs are all referred by past participants.)
So where do you, the avid eater, come in? The chefs will join forces to cook dinners for the public on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday nights at Departure; there are around 100 ticketed seats available per evening. The group of chefs is split into two camps of 12. Each group tackles one night, Thursday or Friday, with every chef cooking one dish for a total of 12 courses. On Sunday, the final evening, the chefs are paired up and cook a 12-course collaborative dinner, with each duo handling one course. Wine and nonalcoholic pairings are included, as are some pre-dinner snacks.
“You’re trying food from 12 different restaurants in one night,” Smith says. And the experience is interactive, as the chefs will come out of the kitchen to talk about their food and background, and circle the room answering diner’s questions. VIP ticket holders get additional face time, with early access to the restaurant and the kitchen while the chefs are cooking, as well as VIP seating at Departure’s cocktail bar or nearby raised booths for prime viewing of the chefs while they plate their courses.
Behind the scenes, the chefs spend their out-of-the-kitchen time exploring Denver’s culinary scene, meeting food and drink all-stars, learning about the farmers and other purveyors who are doing interesting things, having discussions about industry trends and needed improvements, and making connections with fellow cooks. Saturday is the chef’s day off (a rarity at events like this), and Smith plans a full-day outing for the entire crew to somewhere “memorable and serene” followed by a meal cooked by a top local chef. In this case, the chefs will dine on eats from Justin Brunson (Old Major, Masterpiece Delicatessen). Event organizers pay for the whole experience.
“They spend the week bonding, learning about the best products in Denver, and getting to know each other,” Smith says. “It’s really powerful when you bring in 18 chefs from their own markets with their own followings. These chefs go home and bring this information [about Denver’s food community] with them.”
Smith started the event in Austin in 2014 after finding himself burnt out on food festivals where the prices were high, there was limited interaction with chefs, and the food wasn’t really representative of the chefs’ culinary style and expertise. “I wanted to do a sit-down dinner for a small number of guests,” he says.
Three years later, ChefsFeed Indie Week became Smith’s full-time job. He turned it into a traveling event in the hopes of “helping change the dialogue about the markets we’re visiting.”
We think Denver’s ready for the attention.
If you go: Dinners are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and 7 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets start at $165 and do not include an 18 percent service charge, which will be added at checkout. Note that due to this event, Departure will be closed to the general public for dinner service on October 25, 26, and 28.