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Food Dude

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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Taste of Elegance

People’s Choice winner: Pork sausage with pear and Port wine sauce, pork confit potatoes, pear liquor tenderloin and black truffle risotto cakes by Cyd Koehn-Mull.

While its prize money is only a fraction of what some of the large barbecue competitions offer, the Taste of Elegance (Taste) is probably the most prestigious culinary cook-off in Iowa. Funded by the National Pork Board check-off program and a dozen big name co-sponsors, 20 different states hold Taste competitions each year to select their representatives for the national finals held in San Diego. Because contestants must plate dishes that have not previously appeared on their restaurant’s menu, the competition lures the creative professionals looking for the next hot recipe.

This year’s event at the Downtown Marriott was the most competitive ever. Two former champions showed up as sous chefs for friends: 2005 winner Rob Beasley (former chef-partner of Mojo’s on 86th) assisted Shad Kirton (chef-partner of Absolute Flavors and Smokey D’s); and last year’s champ, Jennifer Strauss (chef-owner of Carefree Patisserie) assisted Cyd Koehn-Mull (owner-chef of Cyd’s Catering). Other finalists included L.J. Ames of the Fort Dodge Country Club, Patrick Carlson of Bourbon Street in Cedar Falls, Ephraim Malag of Oak View in Polk City, Chris Meyers of Ferrari’s in Cedar Falls, Roy Thompson of Deerfield Retirement Community and two precocious young chefs from Des Moines — Scott Stroud of Dos Rios and Sean Wilson of Azalea.

Some recipes included more than 40 ingredients and required an entire weekend of preparation. Stroud’s was the most time-consuming. He brined Niman Ranch pork shanks before smoking them in banana leaves, pulling the meat off the bones and mixing it with a puree of several different re-hydrated chilies he had toasted in pork lard, plus fresh chilies cooked in olive oil with tomatillos and tomatoes. He served that combo with a gremalata of pork belly, a pickled radish hay, scratch-made tortillas and momocho (crinkled fried pork skin). Stroud promised that this dish would be on Dos Rios’ menu “someday soon.”

Wilson offered more immediate gratification. He said his die-for-braised pork belly with wild mushroom/pork neck hash would be on Azalea’s weekend menu by the time you read this. His preparation begins with a stock of pigtails and trotters and a ragout of pig necks, crème fraiche and four wild mushrooms, plus a dozen other ingredients. He served it with a listener (fried, simmered pig ear’s) salad and a foam of sweet garlic.

Malag won a $500 award for a center cut loin marinated in red miso, saki, citrus rose blossom wine and seven other Asian ingredients. He served it with a fabulous suttong (slaw) of edamames with green papaya, green mango, radishes, carrots and pickled ginger. He paired that with a gyoza (fried dumpling) and promised that this dish will be on the summer menu at Oak View.

Koehn-Mull won the popular vote of the entire audience (People’s Choice Award) and $750 with a stunning plate that included a sausage she made with rillettes (a pate of pork shoulder and liver), smoked jowls, pistachios and dried cherries. She stuffed that in Serrano ham and served it with roasted fennel and a black truffle-morel risotto. She paired that with a brined, baked tenderloin which she punned with a pear and Port wine sauce. Even the memory makes me salivate.

Kirton won the electoral college, voted by a panel of supreme court judges, $1,000 and a trip to the national championships with a rack of maple and bourbon glazed ribs paired with a smoked andouille sausage that he made from pork butts and beef casings. He served that with pork hash he made with dried cherries and three kinds of smoked pork, plus an apple, walnut and blue cheese relish. Both big winners said they would offer their new creations, but only on their catering menus. After winning, Kirton fired Beasley citing a clause in Kirton’s marital vows that requires him to use his wife Angie as sous chef for all events held “in places such as San Diego.”

Side dishes
Shad and Angie Kirton announced that Smokey D’s hoped to open a new skywalk café, next door to Winston’s, in time for the state wrestling tournament. They also admitted that late March might be more realistic. CV


Food Dude Reviews 2008 2007 Reviews
Splash Raw Oyster Bar (1-3-08) Flavors of India(1-10-08)
Uncle Wendell's (1-17-08) Jesse's Embers (1-24-08)

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