Monday, November 23, 2009

Denver International Wine Festival

This is one of those events that happens annually in our state and just doesn't get enough press.  DIWF (here) is a fantastic wine and food festival that brings together some of the world's best new wines and some of Colorado's best chefs.  The wine festival actually spans a few days, but the coolest part is the "Taste of Elegance" chef's competition.  The chefs are invited from all over the state and the roster is top notch.  Yours truly was involved in the competition and didn't do too bad (Overall Winner 2007 & 2008 and People's Choice 2009).  

The rules are simple:  create two perfect dishes to pair with each of two different award-winning wines given to you by the organization.  The chefs have a few days to come up with their dish and then make bite-sized samples to pair with small sips of the chosen wines.  This year there were 14 chefs and 28 wines, so I emphasize the SMALL portions.  There are approximately 400 guests at the event, so it gets pretty crazy.  But really really fun.

I was asked to participate as a judge this year.  I was with Amanda Faison (5280 magazine), Claire Walter (blog), and Teresa Farney (Colorado Springs Gazette).  We were asked to judge on taste, presentation, originality and wine compatibility (pairing) in order to name this year's Best Chef and Most Creative Chef.

The task was grand and it's hard to remember every detail of each of the chef's dishes.  We shuffled from table to table, eating the food and chatting with each of the competitors.  I realized quickly that I was in a precarious position.  I know a lot of these guys (and girls!) and I don't want anyone upset with me because they didn't win.  At least there were four of us and I can claim "mob mentality"...
The chefs who competed were:

Jeff Bolton, Second Home
Chad Clevenger, Mel's 
Austin Cueto, Restaurant Kevin Taylor
Robert Corey, Sandoval's Kitchen
Eliza Goodwill, 221 South Oak
David Harker, Meritage
Daniel Joy, Mirabelle 
DeWayne Lieurance, Clandestine Chef
Michael Long, Opus
David Olivieri, Farraday's
Eric Riviera, LaLa's
Eric Skokan, Black Cat
Jeremy Thomas, Parisi's and Firenze a Tavola
Jean-Luc Voegele, Westin
Kelly Yepello, Yepello Chocolates

Overall the food was amazing.  There were some really amazing dishes and some real creativity out there.  Anyone who still doubts that Denver and Boulder are not up to speed with the culinary big dogs of this country need to come here again!

After much deliberation (and a stomach ache to follow), we came up with some conclusions.  It was tough, however, since some of the chefs made one dish that was amazing but the second fell short.  Or, they had amazing pairings, but the food was just ok...or vice versa.  There were some highlights that didn't win (Austin's ravioli, for instance - sublime).  But when we added up the points and took all of the factors into consideration, we had our winners:

Michael Long - Best Chef
Robert Corey - Most Creative Chef
Jean-Luc Voegele - People's Choice

And that was that.  It was kind of strange for me not cooking and not competing.  I suppose my job was much easier this year, but I have to say....I am more comfortable behind the stove trying to win, than behind the microphone naming a winner.  I guess I'll always just be a chef at heart.  
See you next year! 


  1. We just had our big wine festival here in Martinborough, New Zealand. It’s called ‘Toast Martinborough.’ I worked at it and had a great time. Maybe I've got a future as a wine bouncer?!

  2. Very nice comments! We hope that you will participate again, behind a stove this time. Save the Date for Taste of Elegance Denver- Thursday November 4, 2010 at The Mile High Station.

    PS: If you are game, we will do the Taste of Elegance NYC on May 13, 2010.