CHEF ELISE WIGGINS
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.