Cooking School of the Rockies teacher Jason Aili is talking about the upcoming Battle of the Chefs contest between him and the Vesta Dipping Grill's Matt Selby: "For me, it's not as much a competition with him as with myself," he explains. "If he's better, I'll try to pick his brain and figure out what he did."
Selby is less circumspect. "I'm gonna kick his ass," he says. "No, what I meant was, 'The best man will win.' Or something like, 'God willing, I'll be a champion.'" He laughs heartily.
Selby has experience with cooking duels. Although defeated by Mizuna chef Frank Bonanno in Westword's Steel Chef competition, he triumphed handily on the Food Network's Ready Set Cook against Wolgang Puck's Daniel Sennessey. "I think what put me over the top was a spinach salad with bacon and a balsamic grape-jelly vinaigrette. People thought that was pretty funny. I made a cocktail with peaches and white wine. I think that also swayed the judges."
The Battle will take place at CSR, where each chef will be provided a fish, a meat and a vegetable or fruit, as well as a basket of mystery ingredients, along with staples like garlic and oils. They have three hours to produce an appetizer, an entree, a side dish and a dessert. The audience will score the dishes on presentation, use of ingredients and taste.
"I hope we don't get red or green peppers," states Selby. "They're stupid and boring. But I'm not worried. I'll take whatever they give me. I'll just have a loaf of foie gras in my knife box, and some truffles...."
Aili, who has worked at Laudisio, Zolo, Jax and Dandelion in Boulder, and who taught at the California Culinary Academy before coming to CSR, is a fan of the Food Network's Iron Chef: "They have so much expertise, and they live their whole lives around food."
Both men love cooking; both sing the praises of simple ingredients. And both are excited about the contest. But Selby thinks he knows how to win: "The important thing is to charm the crowd and liquor up the judges."