Elise Wiggins’ upcoming restaurant’s name, “Cattivella” is a direct reflection of her personality. Translating to “the naughty, impish, mischievous little girl” in Italian, Wiggins’ mother questioned the choice of the name. “You weren’t like that, you were just curious,” she said, to which Wiggins responded, “Then why was I grounded all the time?”
If Wiggins’ name sounds familiar, it’s probably because she’s been a popular chef in Denver’s restaurant scene, having spent the last twelve years as the Executive Chef and partner at Panzano restaurant inside Hotel Monaco. After saving and planning, and many requests from her neighbors in Stapleton, Wiggins is finally cooking up her own restaurant that calls on her love of Italy and the connections between people and food.
A Louisiana native, Wiggins’ southern upbringing has been influential in her thoughts about food. Her dad taught her to fish, hunt and understand where food came from, respect it and not waste it. She also learned about the connections between people and food. Wiggins says get togethers were always a competition, with people becoming known for making certain things like the best potato salad, fried squirrel or gumbo. “That’s where my passion really started, being a young girl seeing how everyone’s eyes lit up whenever someone made the best whatever dish…I wanted to make people happy and hear ‘Elise makes the best whatever!’ So I’ve pursued that since I was a little girl.”
Other little-known facts about Elise Wiggins, the latest chef to announce the opening of a restaurant in November in the Eastbridge Town Center: She carved herself a desk out of a single piece of black walnut for her Stapleton home. She and fiancé Rachael Chaparro, have a chihuahua-rat terrier mix named Biscuit because he looks like one.
Cattivella will draw on everything Wiggins has learned on 40 or so trips to Italy over the years. But the common thread will be fire. “Everything in Italy all these years has been focused around the fire,” says Wiggins. Cattivella’s wood-fired oven and wood-fired grill, rare to have together in one restaurant, will be used to cook everything including steak, chicken, baked pasta, pizza, vegetables and brunch items like strata, a traditional layered dish of bread, cheese, prosciutto and egg. “Everything is slow food, kissed around wood fire at various levels of the life of the fire,” she says. “It will always be living. The fire will never die.”
Cattivella’s architectural design will also call on Italian influences. “In Italy, after everybody leaves work, they go into a bar, start a tab, get a glass of wine and then go out into the street, talking,” she says. Here, liquor laws require people drink in an enclosed area so Wiggins designed a small bar with a spacious outdoor seating area to encourage camaraderie and conversation.
Inside, the most prominent feature will be the rectangular display kitchen where guests can sit at a counter and watch all the action, interacting with the kitchen staff. “Why would you wall off where someone’s making pasta, pastry or sausage or breaking down a shoulder of a pig?” Wiggins asks. Being so visible is also incentive for the kitchen crew because guests give them immediate gratification and connection.
There will be no televisions at Cattivella, another nod to Italian restaurant culture. Instead, a camera in the kitchen, projecting the action onto a wall, will be the entertainment so that every seat in the house sees what’s going on. The camera projection will also enable Wiggins to include more people in cooking classes at the restaurant, which she currently holds in her home.
Wiggins is joining a group of male chef/restaurateurs in the Eastbridge Town Center project but doesn’t feel being a female chef will be an obstacle at all. “We have a bunch of super-successful female chefs in not just Denver but Colorado. We are no longer the rarity but part of the norm,” she says.
Wiggins’ feels Stapleton’s burgeoning restaurant scene is indicative of the interests of the residents and calls the area “an oasis” for restaurants. “Normally, when you open a restaurant, you want a little space between so you aren’t right next to the competition. But this is going to be perfect synergy because we’re all offering something different,” says Wiggins. “We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think it would be successful,” she says.
For more information, please visit www.cattivelladenver.com