Sunday's Caesar salad battle tosses competitors

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Seven Denver restaurants - Squeaky Bean, Izakaya Den, Root Down, Opus, Encore, Campo de Fiori and Marco's Coal-Fired Pizza - are fighting for the Caesar salad crown in this year's Greatest Caesar Salad Competition, a no-holds-barred smackdown that gets tossing at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 26 at the Magnolia Hotel, 818 17th Street.

The yearly "lettuce entertain you" event is hosted by the American Institute of Wine & Food, Colorado Chapter, a non profit that was established in 1981 by Robert Mondavi, Julia Child, Richard Graff and others to provide a forum for the study and enjoyment of gastronomy, which, of course, includes wine.

"This is always a wild and woolly event, with a high-spirited and fun competition from the chefs," says AIWF vice chair Kerrin Degnan. "Some chefs break into song, a few may even tap dance in order to get to the top. It's anyone's guess, but I can tell you that they'll stop at nothing to win."

And to win the ultimate prize, a sensational romaine lettuce bronze-y type of statue (and a year's worth of bragging rights), the chefs are looking to the public (that's you!) to vote on the ultimate winner. Each person who attends will get a ballot listing all the contenders, and after tearing your way through god knows how much lettuce, it's your job to drop the ballot into the ballot box with your top picks. Easy, huh?

There's also a team of "professional judges," which includes yours truly. I like bacon, pork belly, Vosges bacon and chocolate bars, rose sparking wine and Jelly Belly jelly beans, just in case you'd like to woo me over to your side of the Caesar.

If you want to witness the battle -- and it sounds like it's going to be a good one -- then dig into your wallet: The price is $30 for AIWF members and $40 for non-members and includes salad samples, hors d'oeuvres, dessert and two glasses of wine. For more info or to buy tickets, go to www.aiwf.org/colorado.

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