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By Jim Duncan Reviews

Kevin Moore’s (The Cellar, Ft. Dodge) Taste of Elegance dish.

Taste of Elegance

Funded by the National Pork Board and a dozen big name co-sponsors, Taste of Elegance is probably the most prestigious culinary competition in Iowa.

This year’s dinner event featured a dozen of our top chefs. Last year’s Iowa champion, Shad Kirton, was one of this year’s judges. He said that he hoped to bring criteria from the national finals to influence in Iowa (National finalists must recreate the same recipes they used in state championships, and several past winners complained that Iowa judges don’t appreciate the same things as national judges). Iowa Culinary Institute director Robert Anderson was also recruited to judge this year, which created a “think international” buzz among some contestants.

Others stuck with hearty Iowa values: Tim Laielli from Iowa Machine Shed stuffed a breaded loin with provolone and spinach and covered it with a balsamic/asiago marinara; L.J. Ames of David’s Milwaukee Diner in Perry’s Hotel Pattee served a pork loin “Wellington” (without the usual pâté de foie gras or truffles) matched with a pork tenderloin rice dish and bourbon-glazed pork bellies on slaw. That last recipe revived the Pattee’s famous cedar plank grilling method; Ben Halperin of Oxford’s hot, new Augusta Café brought a hearty New Orleans take on the Iowa chop — stuffed with homemade chorizo, crawfish and cornbread, with a mayo-beet tower and a twenty layer potato casserole in double Brie cream; Kevin Moore of Fort Dodge’s The Cellar plated a dish so hearty that another chef called it “Ethiopia’s daily protein in Somalia’s daily carbohydrates.” It included braised butt on apple hash with beer-battered onion petals, all covered in a creamy gravy of maple syrup, sorghum and molasses. Moore’s was the first station in the serving line, establishing a new standard for big appetizers.

Other chefs seemed to be relative minimalists. Former champion Kumar Wickramasingha returned with a new focus after selling his Alpha’s restaurant and taking over seven Iowa kitchens for Sunny Brook Assisted Living Centers. His “no bib ribs” presented baby backs braised in pickling spices without sauce. Tony Lemmo of Café di Scala, entering his first competition at the last minute, went with a rolled Calabrese tenderloin on a Romano cheese and citrus risotto. Ephraim Malag of Polk City’s Oak View Restaurant took the biggest gamble by pairing two Asian treatments of belly and butt. He said he’s getting used to taking chances.

“Our restaurant is a good drive from Des Moines. So in this economy we have to try new things,” he said, explaining that he now dry-ages prime beef for his restaurant’s steaks and will soon be adding Hawaiian style entertainment, including hula dancing, to the restaurant repertoire. At Taste of Elegance, his belly was marinated in garlic, soy sauce, ginger, palm vinegar, brown sugar and pineapple juice and served with mango edamame relish. His pulled butt had been skewered in a paste of soy nuts, bacon, butter, cardamon and cloves. It was served with a pear sauce made with ginger liqueur, vanilla beans, passion fruit juice and rice wine vinegar. He topped that with a mercado of coconut, three cheeses and sliced black truffles. Malag took the bronze medal.

J Benjamin’s Mark Barber won the silver medal in his first competition by stuffing a pork chop with mushrooms and shallots and serving it on spinach with a sherry-asiago sauce. Hotel Winneshiek’s Chad Elliott smoked ribs over cacao nibs and plated them, magnificently, with a raspberry, Dijon mustard, chipotle and apricot marmalade reduction. He won the People’s Choice Award. Haley Silhacek of Ferrari’s Ristorante in Cedar Falls won the judge’s gold with a crown roast served with a cider mustard and Bourbon sauce and plated with chevre, a potato Napoleon, Frangelico-glazed carrots and a warm vinaigrette with 16 ingredients.

Side Dishes
Ephraim Malag (Oak Room at the Tournament Club of Iowa) is one of just three national finalists in the upcoming $10,000 Vestive Chef’s Challenge in Texas… British scientists claimed that a cold-like virus, known as AD-36, makes fat cells multiply, leading to weight gain and obesity. CV

Food Dude Reviews 2009 2008 Reviews ~ 2007 Reviews
Best & Worst of 2008 (01-01-09) Maxie’s (01-08-09)
Fawn's (01-15-09) Kwong Tung welcomes the Ox (01-22-09)
Noah's Ark (01-15-09)  

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