Seasons of Flavor: Chef Aiden Tibbetts' Culinary Journey Through Denver's Highlands at Wildflower

Seasons of Flavor: Chef Aiden Tibbetts' Culinary Journey Through Denver's Highlands at Wildflower

Chef Aiden Tibbetts discusses his seasonal, locally inspired dishes at Denver's Wildflower, blending global techniques with local bounty.

In this illuminating interview, Chef Aiden Tibbetts shares his innovative approach to cooking, deeply inspired by the vibrant seasons and local history of Lower Highlands, Denver. At his restaurant Wildflower, Tibbetts crafts dishes that marry the bounty of his mother's garden with his rich culinary experiences from around the world, revealing a philosophy that elevates local produce and seasonal change to an art form.

Name: Aiden Tibbetts

Title: Chef Tibbetts

Location: Lower Highlands, Denver

Influence of Local Environment

How does Lower Highlands, Denver's environment inspire your cooking techniques and ingredient selection at Wildflower? I basically break down Colorado seasons into 2 distinct groups: dead and alive. 

Alive, our focus becomes getting as much produce where we can identify quality. There is a tomato and then there’s a real tomato and the simple fact is the majority of Americans have no idea what a real one tastes like anymore. With this in mind we have started to utilize as much produce as possible from my mothers garden (@t2garden on insta). We started it in full last year as it was a large construction project with every stone carried down the hillside by my family and terraced into 7 different garden plots. We pick on Sundays and use the bounty for the week.  Ranging from edible flowers of which we use copious amounts or tomatoes, cucumber, eggplant, etc. We compliment that with the rest of the produce that comes from other relationships and organic farms as much as possible. Our approach is to make a great dish and pick a protein that fits with it if we even need a protein. This is an approach that I came to respect while cooking in Paris, we would always start the day out with jus and condiment before even looking at center plate items, which is completely opposite of the philosophy of cooking in the States. 

Dead comes as soon as the first snow falls or the first true freeze, which normally happens at around the same time at the end of October. We will not have any kind of local fresh produce left unless it comes from a greenhouse, of which, there are not that many in Colorado. Root vegetables and more proteins come front and center on the menu. Winter truffles, Fennel, and all the roots come out to fill in the vegetable slots. Preservation of winter citrus like bergamot has become a staple for later dishes to provide fresh flavors in the middle of dead season. 

Can you share how the local landscape influenced a specific dish? Garden Tomatoes: a dish wholly comprised of T2garden produce getting picked every weekend and ending up on peoples plates during the week. We can solely rely on the quality of the product and the love that goes into the whole process. Nobody has a better tomato in the entire state, and everyone is shocked to be able to taste fresh produce which is really sad.

Denver's Historical Context

How do you weave Denver's history into Wildflower's dishes, particularly any era or cultural aspect that influences your menu creation?  I come from a military family that always cooks together as a family with so many different ingredients and opinions and influences coming from all over the world. My main focus is to bring attention to ingredients that are treated with respect in Mexico and Italy that we have lost complete respect of in the United States. A canned black bean has no relation to the Heirloom Scarlet Runners that we present to people making them feel like they’re eating in Mexico, the tomatoes that we have from the garden can make people feel like they’re eating tomatoes in someones garden in Italy. The pasta we make uses incredible local flour and flour imported from Italy paired with ingredients like huitlacoche and local corn, or sunchokes and balsamic made 8 years ago. All these ingredients get wrapped up in the tight little bow of technique coming from all over the world.

Passion for Cooking

What aspect of cooking do you enjoy the most in the culinary scene of Lower Highlands, Denver or at large?  Creating new things, learning new techniques, and not getting dragged down by the boring mass-produced cookie-cutter food of our city that has a dwindling number of independent innovative spots. So many boring corporate restaurants are slowly eating up the available hospitality real-estate that provides a lot of highly processed foods or precut, prepackaged sysco food to the masses. It makes it really hard to get excited for dinner out.

I also love the financial aspect of this industry, so much failure is associated with the industry itself but the majority of that failure in my opinion can be attributed to economic undereducation in our field as well as an inability to promote young talent with innovative ideas early enough to make a dent in the industry. At a certain point cooks in this city slowly conform to the dishes that sell rather than making food that they want to eat themselves and being able to prove why it should be on a menu.

Signature Dish

Could you discuss a signature dish at Wildflower that captures the experience at Wildflower, while reflecting your culinary philosophy?  The next dish. The entire goal of looking forward into a new season is to innovate and better yourself and your food. If the ingredients and the seasons, the new techniques and possibilities, are not impetus for improvement that eclipses what came before, we have failed. It’s a never-ending process that, in some ways, can be an exhausting search for growth, only remedied by a new completed dish.

With that being said, the corn agnolotti would probably be the best representation of the utilization of very seasonal Mexican ingredients and Italian heritage through pasta, melded flawlessly, presented in a new and modern style that is very whimsical and fun. 

Food that we as cooks want to eat. 

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