Gourmet cook-off will benefit women with HIV/AIDS

Local chefs and celebrities will square off Nov. 29 in the Cook-Off for a Cause, which will benefit the Women’s Lighthouse Project, a nonprofit organization supporting women living with HIV/AIDS.It’s like an episode of “Iron Chef,” Denver style.

The Cook-Off for a Cause will pair Westword editor Patricia Calhoun, U.S. Disabled Ski Team member Ralph Green and Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon with area hotspot chefs Jamie Fader of Lola, Sheila Lucero of Jax Fish House and Goose Sorensen of Solera. The three teams will race to assemble their ingredients into delectable dishes in front of an audience of Women’s Lighthouse Project supporters at mise en place, a “recreational cooking school” in downtown Denver.

The event will be hosted by Molly Hughes of KCNC, CBS Channel 4 and will also feature live and silent auctions, with Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff as the auctioneer. Tickets are $60, but a $100 VIP ticket will buy a front-row seat and a chance to judge the teams on their culinary creations. About 40 tickets out of 100 are still available.

The Women’s Lighthouse Project has held similar auctions in the past, but this is the first year for the cook-off.

“I have a number of new folks on the board of directors and they are just gung-ho, let’s do something different, fun and fabulous,” said the organization’s founder and executive director Shannon Conn. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and we’re looking forward to it.”

Conn was diagnosed with HIV in 1992 and AIDS in 1996.

“When I went to look for assistance and support, it was all men and me,” she said. “I realized there needed to be something specifically for women.”

From caring for their children to dealing with medications that affect them uniquely, women living with HIV/AIDS have different needs than men, Conn said. So she founded the Women’s Lighthouse Project, which provides support through education, counseling and other projects. The organization aims to help women understand how to get the help and health care they need.

“The overall goal [is that] she becomes her own best advocate so she can navigate the system on her own,” Conn said.

The Women’s Lighthouse Project is supported by government and private grants, individual donations and fundraisers such as the Cook-Off for a Cause. Conn hopes to raise $15,000 during the event with the help of the Gill Foundation, which has pledged to match up to $5,000 of the proceeds. Conn stressed that all of the money raised will go directly to client services and not to administrative costs.

“This is the most high-profile event we’ve had,” she said.

And, Conn has bigger ideas for the future.

“My big dream and goal is to have our own building,” she said. “Our own house where we can have transitional housing.”

For now, she’s proving something she wants other women with HIV and AIDS to understand.

“There’s life after diagnosis,” she said.

Cook-Off for a Cause:

Thursday, November 29

6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Mise en place, 1801 Wynkoop, Ste. 175

RSVP: 303-344-1878 or womenslighthouse@aol.com

For more information, visit the Women’s Lighthouse Project Web site.

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