Denver Food + Wine Festival returns with a focus on mental health

There will be glitz, glamour and gourmet grub this week when the Denver Food + Wine Festival returns after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus. But underneath the festivities, the Colorado Restaurant Foundation has a serious message about mental health in its industry.

That’s why it picked the five restaurants participating in one of its biggest events, the five-course Dinner Under the Stars, “based on their commitment to health and wellness programming for their employees,” according to a statement from the Foundation, which is the nonprofit arm of the Colorado Restaurant Association. The restaurants are Cantina Loca, Safta, Ace Eat Serve, and Tavernetta, with dessert from CHOW co-founder John Hinman of Hinman Pie.

Proceeds from the dinner will go to the Foundation’s Angel Relief Fund, which has distributed more than $4 million since 2020 to restaurants and restaurant workers experiencing hardship. This year, the Angel Relief Fund “expanded its scope” to include grants of up to $1,000 for industry workers in need of financial help to cover mental healthcare.

Denver Food + Wine, which is a multi-day affair, kicks off Wednesday, September 7 with Dinner Under the Stars (which is almost sold out), a “lavish” five-course affair taking place at the Slate, 1250 Welton St., a new hotel in the former Emily Griffith Opportunity School building. Some of the dishes include Chef Dana Rodriguez’s scallop aguachile with Palisade peach agrodolce and micro cilantro, and Chef Cody Cheetham’s lasagna al forno made with three-meat ragu, ricotta and bechamel. Each comes with a curated wine pairing. Tickets are $200.

Up next, on Thursday, Sept. 8, is the Shake + Brake Showdown, a cocktail competition with 10 local bartenders who will be serving all-you-can-drink cocktails — and backed by appetizers from six cool food trucks. There will also be live music and lawn games. Attendees can vote for their favorite cocktail. The Shakedown runs from 7 to 10 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 8 on the Tivoli Quad on the Auraria Campus, 1000 Larimer Street. Tickets, $65-75, are available here.

And finally, the Grand Tasting, on Saturday, Sept. 10, showcases award-winning local chefs, mixologists, and wine professionals “who will share bites and sips that explore and celebrate Colorado’s dynamic food-and-beverage scene,” the Foundation says. Restaurants include Bonefish Grill, Carmine’s Italian Restaurants, Comida, La Diablo, the Ginger Pig, Panzano,  Samosa Shop, Terra, Wahoo’s, Yuan Wonton, and Teacher’s Lounge Food + Drink. You can also sample from more than 700 wines, spirits, and other beverages. The tasting run from noon to 4 p.m. on the Tivoli Quad, 1000 Larimer St., on the Auraria Campus. Tickets are $115-175.

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