Wednesday, January 27, 2016

FoodieLife- Iowa Taste of Elegance

One of my foodie resolutions for 2016 was to attend more foodie events this year, and thanks to the awesome people at Iowa Pork I am kicking the year off with a foodie event in January- the Iowa Taste of Elegance culinary competition. Every year the Iowa Pork Producers hold this competition where chefs from all over Iowa battle it out for prize money and bragging rights in this invite-only event focusing on pork and some of the most fantastic dishes imaginable. This event not only give the chefs a chance to show their culinary skills, but highlights the hard work and dedication of Iowa's pork farmers, and their commitment to safe, wholesome and budget-friendly fresh pork. Held on January 25, 2016 at the Downtown Des Moines Marriott, this is some serious competition with some serious recognition-
  • Chef Par Excellance wins a trip to the National Pork Summit at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California and a $1,000 cash prize.
  • Plaque and cash prizes for Top Three Chefs and Peoples' Choice
  • Evening reception to celebrate the dishes, present awards and select the Peoples' Choice
This event is also a very important fundraiser for the Food Bank of Iowa's Back Pack Program. Matt Unger,  program manager for the Food Bank of Iowa shared the story of Iowa's hungry children and how important the Back Pack Program is. The statistics he shared about hunger in my home state were truly shocking, and the Back Pack Program helps fight childhood hunger by sending needy kids home over the weekends with a back pack filled with nutritious food. Listening to him talk about how some kids literally survive on the weekly school lunch program broke my heart.

The Chefs- photo courtesy of Jenny Unternahrer
from In the Kitchen With Jenny
This is not the first time I have sat in the comfort of the Marriott's elegant banquet hall, enjoying food the likes of which some people will never experience. The story of the Food Bank of Iowa's program reminded me of the previous year's Culinary Fight Night, which benefited Des Moines' homeless and also brought a lot of awareness to the suffering around us.

For this 30th year of the event, the folks at Iowa Pork invited a group of Iowa bloggers to attend. Many of us were invited to attend the Iowa Pork Tour last July- you might remember the two day event that featured a tour of a modern pork producing farm, an exclusive multi-course pork dinner with wine pairing, and a day of cooking and food styling classes. I made some great new friends over those two days, and I am so looking forward to seeing them again at this event! I asked my very good friend Vivian to go along. She and I went to the Cooking With George class a year ago and had a wonderful time, and we share so many things in common, not the least of which is our appreciation for good food, good conversation and good wine and beer. We had a great time sampling all the goods and chatting with Shawnee, from the Iowa Pork Board, other Iowa bloggers Jenny Unternahrer, Cristen Clark, Jenni Ward and Erin Brenneman from Brenneman Pork.

Who is competing? Let's run down the chefs for 2016-

Brian Pomerenk from the Iowa Machine Shed restaurant prepared his pork dish, Country Harvest, a tender juicy roast pork with a homestyle sage stuffing and two sauces. 

Chad Myers, Dubuque Golf and Country Club's dish was Wickham Farms Red Wattle Pork Shoulder with Sausage and Pork Tenderloin Roulade. This dish was stunningly beautiful and surprisingly, served cold. It made me think of a a French style picnic.

Daniel Dennis, from Lion Bridge Brewing Company also used Red Wattle pork in his Red Wattle Torchon in Four Seasons. The torchon was a headcheese type sausage, thickly sliced and garnished to celebrate each season, with flavors ranging from bring green arugula puree to pickled Hubbard squash. Another beautifully prepared dish, but one that just didn't do it for me.

The Wood Fire Grille in the Diamond Jo Casino in Northwood, Iowa sent Chef Jon Nelson to share his Ad Porc de Trois. This was one of my favorites. Handcrafted pork sausage, grilled and sliced, along with a hunk of roasted pork and a jerky-like thick cut cured pork served on a white bean puree with greens, presented in a paper thin wooden canoe.

Chef Carina Fleetwood from the Calypso Isle Casino prepared a beautiful Latin dish- Citrus Barbacoa Sopa with Smoky Tomatillo Salsa and Pickled Relish. Served on a thick masa cracker the pork was spicy and tender, the spiralized veggies made a gorgeous accompaniment. This was a favorite too.

Barry Greenwood, Executive Chef at the University of Iowa had MY vote, and my friend Vivian's vote too! His skewer of smoked pork shoulder, handmade chorizo, and hominy fritter draped with green chile sauce was my absolute favorite dish of all. The hominy fritter nailed it for me- creamy, crunchy, spicy and sweet all in one perfect bite. The pork was tender and perfectly smoked and the chorizo was so delicious. The sprinkle of pepitas brought some salty crunch. Perfection!

Anthony Valvoda of Bata's Restaurant in Cedar Rapids crafted the Duo of Pork Shoulder. Roasted pork shoulder and handmade mortadella spiked with pistachios and aronia berry reduction was an interesting and creative combination.

Des Moines' chef Aaron Holt, of RoCA, brought his Root Beer Braised Pork Shoulder Sliders with Crispy Sriracha Onions and Aioli in a root beer reduction is the restaurant's top selling pork entree, and I could see why. Homey, delicious, just the right amount of "messy" this sandwich would be equally at home in a trendy restaurant and a Super Bowl party. Definitely a crowd favorite.

The West Des Moines Marriott's Donald Garrett had another one of my very favorites. It was hard to decide who to vote for....... and when the chef offers up Mulled Apple Butter Bacon Wrapped Barbeque Pork with a crunchy slaw and corn muffin on the side, the stakes get raised significantly. This was comfort food hands down but a LOT more upscale than grandma's country kitchen.

Pam Oldes, from Eat on the Green in Oskaloosa created an Asian Pulled Pork Taco with Kimchi Slaw and spicy mayo. Yum yum YUM!!! The wonton shell was super crispy,light and not greasy AT ALL, the filling had the perfect kick of spicy heat. This one almost had my vote.....if not for that hominy fritter.

The chefs are judged on their entree recipe, but not the sides and accompaniments. Points are awarded on taste, appearance and originality with a total of 100 points possible. After the judging each chef will have a booth so they can meet the guests, share info about their restaurant and offer samples of their dishes. Guests vote on the samples and select the Peoples' Choice at the end of the reception. The evening's entries were judged by Chef Brad Scott, culinary instructor and head chef of Scott Community College; Chef Jonathan Cook, Executive Sous Chef of the Iowa Events Center, and Matt Unger. And the evening's results were.......

Peoples' Choice- Aaron Holt from RoCA

Premier Chef- Daniel Dennis from Lion Bridge Brewing Company
with the 2015 Iowa Pork Queen Christy Calderwood

Superior Chef- Anthony Valvoda from Bata's Restaurant
with 2015 Iowa Pork Princess Emily Cook

Chef Par Excellence- Jon Nelson from Wood Fire Grille

Several Iowa wineries and breweries were represented at the event as well..........which meant lots of fantastic beers and wines, from many new wineries I have never visited. I have several new favorites to hunt down, so look for some Happy Hour features in the future!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received passes to attend the event with no expectation of providing a written post- my post is entirely voluntary. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


  1. Awesome post! Your photos and descriptions are great!! It was such a fun night!

    1. Thanks Jenni!! It was so great to see everyone again- we need to make it happen more often

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  2. Thanks for this terrific recap of the evening. It was great to catch up with you guys again!!

  3. I loved reading about this event but I loved the pictures even more. Great wrap up of what must have been an amazing event. Thanks for sharing!!!