Earlier this week, in the kitchen of Metropolitan State University's Hospitality Learning Center, two Colorado chefs showcased their fish scaling, fileting, pin-boning, butchering and cooking skills as part of the Seattle Fish Skuna Bay Kentucky Derby Challenge, a two-hour timed battle that earned one of them the opportunity to compete against four other national chef winners in a semi-final in Los Angeles on April 18. The winner of that showdown will head to Louisville, Kentucky to cook at the Taste of Derby competition in May.
The local competing chefs -- Lon Symensma (ChoLon) and Sean Blomgren (39 Degrees at the Sky Hotel in Aspen) -- were judged by Diane Snider (exec chef of Row 14), James Webb, a faculty member from MSU and me, and the scores couldn't have been closer. Symensma, whose fish fabrication skills are absolutely faultless, prepared pan-seared, "tranche-cut" salmon propped atop a stir-fried jumble of bok choy, rings of Fresno chiles and shallots in a yuzu beurre blanc, while Blomgren, who admitted it had been a while since he butchered a fish, nonetheless regaled the judges with a salmon belly tartare with mint, leeks and lemongrass, the sum of which was haloed with crisped shards of salmon skin and radishes. Symensma won the battle -- by a nose -- and will represent Denver in Los Angeles, where he'll have a great chance of moving on to the the final challenge in Louisville. The winner of the final will be crowned champion and appear in Saveur magazine.
Herewith, the photos from the Denver-based battle.
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