Stephan Hesse, executive chef of The Oak Grill in Minneapolis, Minn., won top honors in the 20th annual national Taste of Elegance contest June 29 in Baltimore, Md.  The competition, featured 29 chefs, all winners of state and regional Taste of Elegance contests. Hesse earned Chef Par Excellence honors with his winning entrée of Curry Pork Belly and Coconut Panna Cotta and a check for $5,000.  

In the national contest, competing chefs created original pork entrees that were judged for taste, appearance and originality.  The Taste of Elegance contest was created to encourage chefs to use pork more frequently in creative, non-traditional ways. 

"The national Taste of Elegance contest 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 pork items on menus."

Other chefs that received honors at the contest include Stephen Marshall of Medici in Las Vegas, Nev., who earned the Superior Chef Award and $2,000 with his Spiced Pork Belly and Mark Brown of The River Club in Suwanne, Ga., who earned the Premium Chef Award and $1,000 with his Piedmont Pork. 

The other five finalists in the 2009 National Taste of Elegance contest were: Rudy Garza of True Flavors Culinary Planners in San Antonio, Texas; Eddie Tancredi of Rosendales in Columbus, Ohio; James Abbott of Fusions Catering in Sioux Falls, S.D.; Robert Iannaccone of Brookside Country Club in Macungie, Pa. and Joel Cooper of Wolfgang Puck Catering at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Ill.

New this year was Media Choice award. The national foodservice media in attendance presented this award to Stephen Marshall.

Foppiano Wines of Healdsburg, Calif. presented Julia Lopez of ALO in Dallas, Texas with their wine pairing award and John Moddich of Silkwood Wines in Modesto, Calif. presented Eddie Tancredi with their wine pairing award.

Again this year was the opportunity for the competing chefs to attend an abridged version of Pork 101, a short course that focuses on pork quality, consistency and value. 

"The chefs were able to view a hog carcass being broken down into different cuts," 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:

  • Marc Orfaly of Pigalle; Boston
  • Deb Paquette of Zola; Nashville
  • Kent Rathbun of Abacus; Dallas,
  • Joseph Royer of Saturn Grill; Oklahoma City
  • Charlie Torgerson of Famous Dave's; Minneapolis,
  • Tyler Wiard of Elway's; Denver

The Checkoff 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 23 state and regional Taste of Elegance contests by providing $500 and pork at each event.  Cargill also provided all participating chefs Diamond Crystal Kosher salt and Peter's chocolates.

Other cosponsors for the Checkoff-funded national Taste of Elegance event were Baltimore Renaissance Harborplace Hotel of Baltimore, Chefwear, Petite Sirah I Love You wines and Bauscher, Inc.

Source: NPB