Photos: Elise Wiggins, Daniel Asher and Riley Romanin take on salmon for the chance to cook at the Kentucky Derby

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All photos by Lori Midson

Earlier this week, three Colorado chefs -- Elise Wiggins (Panzano), Daniel Asher (Root Down and Linger) and Riley Romanin (Hooked in Beaver Creek) -- convened in the kitchen of Metropolitan State University Hospitality Learning Center to vie for an opportunity to cook at the Taste of Derby competition at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville in early May.

See also:
- Eric Rivera, exec chef of Cafe|Bar, on pretty legs, butt cracks and the exploding salmon eyeball
- Cooking with Pete and Barb Marczyk: Salmon cakes
- Cooking with Pete and Barb Marczyk: Baked salmon with beurre blanc sauce

The three chefs, all of whom were tasked with the responsibility of cleaning, pin-boning and breaking down a Skuna Bay whole salmon in a timed ten-minute race and then preparing one dish using as many parts and pieces of the fish as possible, strutted their fileting -- and cooking -- talents in front of the judges, including me, Matt Selby (Corner House) and Jackson Lamb, who's part of the culinary management team at Metro.

Skuna Bay salmon, which are "craft-raised" in sustainable, natural, glacier-fed ocean environments on Vancouver Island, are one of the latest obsessions of chefs in Denver and elsewhere, and it's easy to see why: With their fat bellies, absence of bruising, blood-red gills, shimmery silver scales, buttery, firm flesh and exceptionally mild flavor, the fish are worth the hype, and the chefs, most notably Romanin -- a chef whose sushi background was clear -- did them justice.

Romanin, whom the judges chose to represent Colorado in the next round of competition, held later this month in Los Angeles, utilized just about everything, from the skin to the toro (that was turned into bacon), turning out a plate that, while stuck in the '80s with its yin-yang sauce presentation, was otherwise unassailable.

Thirty chefs total, from ten cities across America, will compete to cook at Taste of Derby, with two chefs going head-to-head in the final battle at Churchill Downs. Only one, however, will gallop away with the ultimate prize: a crown and an appearance in Saveur magazine. Here's a photographic journey through the Denver-based battle.


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