Adam Wells-Morgan, executive chef of The Club at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Mo., won top honors in the 21st annual National Taste of Elegance™ contest June 14 in Baltimore, Md. The competition, sponsored by the Pork Checkoff, featured 18 chefs, all winners of state and regional Taste of Elegance culinary competitions. Wells-Morgan earned Chef Par Excellence honors and $5,000 with his winning entrée of Duo of Pork: Sumac and Rosemary Scented Pork Loin and Cider Braised Pork Shoulder served with white cheddar grits, crispy carrots and leeks, and apple spice gastrique. He also was presented with the Media Choice Award, an honor given by representatives of foodservice media to the chef with the most creative application of a pork dish.

"The National Taste of Elegance event brought some of the nation's best chefs together to share their talent using pork," said Tim Bierman, a pork producer from Iowa and National Pork Board member. "By reaching chefs through Checkoff programs like this, the goal is to increase the number of pork items on menus."

In the national contest, competing chefs from Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin created original pork entrees that were judged on taste, appearance and originality. The Taste of Elegance competitions were created to highlight chefs' innovative ways of using pork and to encourage chefs to work with pork in creative, non-traditional ways.

Additional top-placing chefs include Jason Santos, who earned the Superior Chef Award and $2,000 with his Sous Vide Pork Belly, Honeydew, Raspberry Pudding, Lime Sugar, Pink Pepper dish and David Vlach, who earned the Premium Chef Award and $1,000 with his Spiced Slow-Cooked Pork Shank with Gremolata and Black Beluga Lentil Tomato Stew.

Competing chefs also had the opportunity to attend an abridged version of Pork 101, a Checkoff-funded short course that focuses on pork quality, consistency and value. New to the Pork 101 program this year was a conversation with pork producers about the industry and pork production. Bierman along with Steve Weaver, a pork producer from California, showed photos from their farm, discussed the production practices of their operation and answered questions about the ethical principles and practices of the pork industry.

"Not only were the chefs able to view a hog carcass being broken down into different cuts, but they also heard the story of pork production firsthand from farmers," said Bierman. "These chefs are the trendsetters of the food industry, and reaching out to them through a seminar like this is part of our overall effort to increase pork demand."

Judges for this year's event included:

• Stephan Hesse of Luna Rossa Trattoria and Wine Bar; Stillwater, Minn.
• Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson's BBQ; Decatur, Ala.
• Michael Paley of Proof on Main; Louisville, Ky.
• Kevin Storm of Bellerive Country Club; St. Louis, Mo.
• John Sundstrom of Lark; Seattle, Wash.
• Tyler Wiard of Elway's; Denver, Colo.

The Checkoff once again partnered with Cargill, featuring Sysco Corporation's premium White Marble Farms, in providing pork for the competition. In addition to sponsoring the national event, Cargill also sponsored 15 state and regional Taste of Elegance competitions.

Other co-sponsors for the Checkoff-funded National Taste of Elegance event were Baltimore Renaissance Harborplace Hotel of Baltimore, Chefwear®, Steelite USA, Cutco Cutlery and Four Vines Vineyard.

The National Pork Board has responsibility for Checkoff-funded research, promotion and consumer information projects and for communicating with pork producers and the public. Through a legislative national Pork Checkoff, pork producers invest $0.40 for each $100 value of hogs sold. The Pork Checkoff funds national and state programs in advertising, consumer information, retail and foodservice marketing, export market promotion, production improvement, technology, swine health, pork safety and environmental management. For information on Checkoff-funded programs, pork producers can call the Pork Checkoff Service Center at (800) 456-7675 or check the Internet at www.pork.org.