Chef Nick Marino of Park Street Kitchen in Des Moines took home the 1st place honors - or Chef Par Excellence - at the Iowa Pork Producers Association Taste of Elegance competition. This year's contest, held annually at the beginning of Iowa Pork Congress week, challenged chefs to prepare an entrée featuring fresh pork belly.
Marino prepared Crispy Skin Pork Belly and served it with sweet corn agnolotti (a flattened pasta), celery root puree, sweet corn butter emulsion and natural jus. The judges said Marino cooked the pork belly perfectly; "it had just the right texture and tenderness."
He received $1000 and a plaque in his effort to prepare the top entrée in a field of 11 chefs. The second place winner was Anthony Nace of Blu Toro Cantina and Grill of West Des Moines. Nace also won the People's Choice award for his Coffee Crusted Pork Belly, served with crispy arugula, cherry agrodolce (a sweet and sour sauce) and polenta. He received plaques and a total of $750 for his awards.
Third place went to Adam Gardner of Black Sheep Social Club in Cedar Rapids. His Pork Belly Chili earned him $250 and a plaque.
The participating chefs prepared a full-sized plated entrée for the event judges Jeremy Ralph, a culinary instructor at Kirkwood Community College; Andrew Ungs, the 2018 Chef Par Excellence and Executive Chef and Owner of Whiskey Road in Cedar Falls; and food blogger and pig farmer Cristen Clark of Runnells. The chefs then prepared smaller tasting plates that were served to 325 guests and media judges in the evening. The guests selected the People's Choice award that went to Nace.
Local Des Moines media judges selected Samantha Oyen of Brazen Open Kitchen and Bar in Dubuque as the winner of their award. Oyen prepared Miso Pork Belly with a lacto-fermented carrot roll and textures of egg and bacon jus. Oyen won $250 and a plaque.
The Taste of Elegance is a Pork Checkoff-funded culinary competition designed to inspire innovative and exciting ways to menu pork in restaurants. This event brings together talented chefs from across Iowa for an elegant occasion that highlights pork and its popularity as a menu favorite.
The IPPA Taste of Elegance competition and reception helped kick off the 47th annual Iowa Pork Congress.