The culinary industry has been traditionally dominated by male executive chefs. Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver are just a couple of the most well-known chefs in the industry. And while their cooking styles are very distinct, they all still fit the stigma that high-end cooking is a male-dominated profession.
But women chefs are here to change that. They’re proving that with their unique recipes and mouthwatering creations, female cooks are forces to be reckoned with. Today, female chefs rank among the industry’s best, earning major awards and Michelin stars.
Denver is a prime example of this new world of cooking. Here’s a look at some of Denver’s top female chefs who are making their marks on the culinary scene right now.
Even if you don’t frequent Bistro Vendome, Euclid Hall, Stoic & Genuine or Rioja, the name Jennifer Jasinski should ring a bell. In addition to winning the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef Southwest in 2013, Chef Jen was named 2004 Colorado Chef of the Year and 2005 Western Regional Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation, is a permanent fixture on best chef lists, both locally and nationally, and appears on Bravo TV’s Top Chef Masters.
Her latest endeavor, Ultreia, is set to open at Union Station in early 2017. According to the Denver Post, Ultreia “will focus on the shared plate pinxtos — pronounced PEEN-chos — and tapas of the Iberian peninsula countries of Spain and Portugal.” The unique name translated loosely means “onward,” a fitting moniker for the transit hub location. The 1,900 square-foot restaurant will take up residence in the former Fresh eXchange space and will offer mezzanine seating and a full bar.
Elise Wiggins brings decades of restaurant experience to her executive chef career, including a 12-year stint as Executive Chef of Panzano, named Best Italian restaurant by Westword and winner of multiple awards for food and service.
She is now stepping out of her role at Panzano and opening Cattivella, an Italian joint that will provide a different take to Italian food in Denver. The restaurant is part of the Eastbridge project in the Stapleton neighborhood where she lives.
Cattivella, which translates to “naughty girl,” will be located on the southwest corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Galena Street. It joins chef-driven restaurants from Troy Guard, Lon Symensma and the Kitchen Next Door in the Eastbridge project, which abuts the long-awaited King Soopers currently under construction.
Designed by Sarah Brown of Semple Brown Design, an exhibition kitchen will be the star of the show and focus all attention to a wood- burning pizza oven, a wood-burning grill and the dance of the Cattivella cooks. Guests also can sit overlooking the pastificio (pasta table) section of the chefs’ counter, while others might sit with a view of the Butchers’ Corner where the butchers work on beef, pork, lamb and other whole animals. The surrounding chefs’ counter will seat 26, along with 74 additional interior seats and 100 seats on a wrap-around patio with mountain views. The open kitchen will provide an ideal setting for the cooking classes Wiggins will continue to offer.
Cattivella is expected to open by late fall or early winter.
Mary Nguyen is anything short of a hard worker. She burst onto the scene in 2005 with Parallel 17, an Asian-inspired eatery. In December 2013, she opened Olive & Finch, a contemporary café that sells breads, cheeses and meats, and also provides a tasty breakfast lineup and a creative array of sandwiches. Around the same time, she changed course at Parallel 17 and reimagined the space into P17, a French bistro. This past May, P17 closed. However, Nguyen “is not slowing down,” according to Eater, “but rather making room to grow her quick-service eatery Olive & Finch…A second location will open this fall in the Cherry Creek North neighborhood at 3390 East 1st Avenue (First Avenue and Cook Street), with plans in the works to open three more locations in the metro area.”
Her love for food started when her mother taught her that food brings people together. “No matter what’s going on in our busy day-to-day lives, we all try to get together on Sunday, and my mother cooks a feast – and everyone always finds their favorite dish on the table,” she told Zagat. And while Nguyen loves being a woman chef, she says that she doesn’t make her gender a point of identity for her. “It’s the same when someone asks me what the advantages are of being an Asian chef. Simply put, I’m a chef who happens to be a woman who also happens be Asian.”
Born in Ontario, Canada, and raised in Denver, Nadine Donovan has really made a name for herself in the culinary industry. She is now one of the state’s most respected pastry pros thanks to her work as Executive Pastry Chef for Secret Sauce Food & Beverage, the local restaurant group behind Steuben’s, Ace Eat Serve and Vesta Dipping Grill.
Secret Sauce F&B most recently opened up a new Steuben’s location in the former Gunther Toody’s space at Ralston Road in Arvada this past March and is working on Steuben’s ice cream program, making all ice cream in-house.
When asked about her proudest accomplishment, Donovan told Denver Life, “Two years ago, I was chosen for the Denver Five, a group of five chefs every year that get to represent Colorado at the James Beard House in New York. The year I did it, it was all female chefs, so we got to represent Colorado and girl power. The James Beard House has so much history and pride, and to have the opportunity to cook there? Wow.”
What other female cooks should we be looking out for? Let us know in the comments below.