12 Plates of Pork

12 Plates of Pork

Have you ever entered a contest on social media by commenting on, liking, and/or sharing a post? Will you enter pretty much any contest? Do you only enter those with a prize that you really want? Or do you scroll past it thinking “I never win those things.”

I’m usually a “scroller”, but a few weeks ago, a post on Facebook caught my attention. The Iowa Food and Family Project was offering two tickets to something called “The 2017 Iowa Taste Of Elegance” sponsored by the Iowa Pork Producers. I didn’t know what this was but it had the words “Iowa” and “Taste” and “Pork” in the description, so I really didn’t need any more information or incentive. To enter, all I had to do was comment on the post identifying my favorite restaurant in Iowa to order pork (FYI: Los Tres Amigos in Waukee – Carnitas Dinner). Done.

A little time on google revealed that this was a tasting of pork dishes prepared by 12 chefs from across the state in competition for monetary awards and bragging rights. I was pretty curious. Curiosity became excitement when I learned I had won!

Never say “never”.

On January 23rd, my husband and I attended the event held at the CCCU Convention Center in Des Moines, not really knowing what to expect. We knew we’d be eating. 👍 We had discovered that we would be eating pork loin, the cut all chefs had to feature in their dish. 👍 What we did not expect was local celebrity sightings, a reunion with a fellow baseball dad/coach, and inspiration for some pretty amazing combinations!



Gorgeous, right?

Each guest made their way to the Chefs’ tables to pick up a “taste” of each entry. We were at a table on the edge of the room and by the time we could get to some of the chefs, many had run out of the sides/condiments. Even though we didn’t get to try all of the elements of the dishes, it was awesome to see and taste the personalities of the chefs and the restaurants they represented.


Here is a list of the competitors and their dish:

  1. Daniel Dennis – Independent Catering Chef – Cedar Rapids
    Fancy Pork Nacho
  2. Brian Pomerenk – Iowa Machine Shed – Urbandale
    *did not compete
  3. Wallace Franklin – The Whiskey House – Ankeny
    Boubon Pork Tenderloin, Mashed Potato Truffle Esmpuma, Raspberry Pomegranate Gastrique, PIckeled Chanterelle Mushrooms and Rainbow Chard
  4. Jordan Walton – Harvey’s Diner and Pub – Redfield
    Pan Seared Pork Tenderloin, Basil and Sweet Potato Bread Pudding, Hoisin Braised Mustard Greens, Caramelized Mandarin, Red Pear Ponzu Sauce
  5. Travis Taylor – Marlenes at Sevastopol Station – Des Moines
    *no description
  6. Troy Tucker – Caroline’s Restaurant Hotel Julien – Dubuque
    Seared Pork Tenderloin with Aquavit Infused Hungarian Pepper Sauce
  7. Brenden Waltz – Minervas Bar & Grill – Okoboji
    This Little Pig Went to the Fair
  8. Kurt Nyguard – 1910 Grille – Mason City
    Seared Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Sauteed Mushrooms and Apples, Cherry Molasses, Butternut Squash Puree, Honeyed Broccolini
  9. Pamela Oldes – On The Green – Oskaloosa
    Hawaiian Pork served with Coconut Cornbread and Green Bean Macadine
  10. Louis Cram – Diamond Jo Casino – Dubuque
    Pork Tenderloin Cabbage Roll
  11. Ben Jones – Brazen Open Kitchen & Bar – Dubuque
    Pork Tenderloin, Textures of Carrot, Hazelnut Dukkah, Pigtail Briouat
  12. Justin Scardina – Norse Culinary Team at Luther College – Decorah
    Apple Brandy Poached Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potato Thyme Tart, Fennel Jam, Cherry Mostrada, Apple Brandy Honey Reduction and Crisp Smoke Pork “Chip”

Just reading these descriptions was inspiring my brain to amp up my creativity in the kitchen and at the grocery store. Ideas of savory bread pudding, pickled carrots, mushrooms pared with apples, pureed popcorn (what?), and brandy poached meat, have me thinking about my kitchen as a culinary science lab.

Experiment #1: hazelnut dukkah (Chef Ben Jones).  Dukkah (doo-kah), as I learned after I returned home, is an Egyptian condiment made up of herbs, spices and nuts (commonly hazelnuts, sesame seeds, cumin, and coriander). Salt, fennel, mint and thyme make regular appearances in dukkah recipes. Chef Jones was named “Chef Par Excellence”!

Experiment #2 & #3: mustard greens and pureed popcorn (Chef Brenden Waltz). This past year, I have become quite infatuated with micro-greens. The tiny sprouts of mustard, pea, beet, and radish sprouts packed with flavor and nutrients brighten sandwiches, smoothies and salads. The combination of mustard with pork is always a winner for me and Chef Waltz hit the walk-off homer. His entry, “This Little Pig Went to the Fair”, reminded me of the ever-popular pork chop on a stick, popcorn, and the mustard drizzled over my corn dog. Give me the flavors of a good memory in a formal dining presentation and you’ve got yourself a fan! I e-mailed him to ask for a more detailed description of his entry:

Pork tenderloin roulade, filled with blue ribbon applebutter, wrapped in caul fat, roasted until crispy and sliced. Served on a popcorn puree with a Dijon gaustrique and garnished with Cherry Lane Farms micro mustard greens, and popcorn kernels coated in bacon powder.

Apparently, “popcorn puree” involves simmering buttered and seasoned popped popcorn in heavy cream, straining it and combining the cream with potato puree. Why would anyone go to all this trouble? You should taste it!

Experiment #4: combining everyday ingredients in a more sophisticated way. Chef Nyguard (winner of the People’s Choice Award) captured the flavors of a family dinner on a chilly night by adding sauteed mushrooms and apples over a puree of butternut squash with a drizzle of cherry molasses. He was kind enough to talk with me for a few minutes about his appearance on a segment of the PBS show “Iowa Ingredient“. He is the chef at the 1910 Grille in Mason City, located in the Historic Park Inn (the last Frank Lloyd Wright hotel designed and built in the world). The beautiful 1910 Grille has landed itself on my bucket list of restaurants (yes, an actual list).

Our meal of pork samples concluded with a few samples from the dessert bar! Chocolate covered strawberries, brownies, cheesecakes, lemon bars … I know there were more choices but I was full!

The evening was complete with great food (obviously), music (piano accompaniment), beverages (samples from Iowa craft breweries and wineries), and, as all great dining experiences (a.k.a. picnics) should, great company. In attendance were Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, several local news personalities (including our Emcee for the evening, Eric Hanson from KCCI), and a friend and fellow baseball coach from our days of travelling youth baseball who has been involved with the Pork Producers and the Board of Directors for many years. Catching up with him, hearing about his family, and reliving some old memories really made for wonderful evening.


This picture was on display at the event. It really tugs at this farm girl’s heart. Wide-open blue skies, summer fields soaking up the sun, weathered grain bins waiting for the next bumper crop, the uncertainty of the clouds rolling in … I don’t know who deserves the credit for this piece of art but I’d like to thank them. I am grateful to all the chefs who piqued my curiosity and tugged at my memories of growing up at an Iowa table. And I am grateful to the Iowa Food and Family Project for the opportunity to enjoy this event and for their efforts to promote the farming community in this great state.

As always, I encourage you to be “foodventurous”! Never pass up an opportunity to try new foods, new preparations, new combinations. Never pass up an opportunity to ask the chef how they did something or tell them you liked what they made. Everyone likes to hear their work is valued.

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