909 17th Street at Champa, Denver, Colorado 80202|303.296.3525

Denver Italian Restaurant Panzano - Executive Chef Elise Wiggins

Panzano's Executive Chef Elise Wiggins knew she wanted to be a chef from an early age, even if she wasn't sure exactly what that meant. She just knew that she wanted to "cook and make people happy," she says. Leading the culinary efforts at Panzano in downtown Denver, Wiggins cooks and makes people happy-locals and visitors alike - with her distinctive contemporary Northern Italian cuisine using local and sustainable ingredients and practices.

Wiggins grew up in Louisiana, with family camaraderie that centered around food and, as she puts it, "whose Mama cooked the best and who made the best gumbo." After college at Northeastern Louisiana University, Wiggins began her career at Grotto in Dallas, working under Morris Salerno and Karl Hogue, the gold medal culinary Olympics team. It was there where she began to understand the basics of good food and authentic Northern Italian flavors.

Wiggins then enrolled at the Colorado Institute of Art, where she fell in love with Colorado. Upon graduating, she quickly worked her way up to executive chef at the former Bella Ristorante. This was followed by travels in Central America, where she broadened her culinary horizons at outdoor markets and fine restaurants alike. She then accepted an offer at the Palio restaurant in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the restaurant received a coveted AAA Four Diamond award during her tenure.

In the Spring of 2004, Wiggins returned to Denver and Panzano, where she now prepares award-winning mouthwatering dishes and continues to explore regional Italian delights. She shares what she's learned one Saturday each month, leading a popular hands-on class at the restaurant called Learn to Cook Like a Chef. "I think about how flavor profiles work and emphasize those. I'll take a bit of foie gras and try it with cherries or hazelnuts," she says. "Or lemon zest with olives and capers and sun dried tomatoes. I like to use the complements." Panzano's guests like it too.