Altoona Chef Wins Culinary Contest that Kicks Off Iowa Pork Congress

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Facebook should be giving this year’s winner of the Taste of Elegance competition a big thumbs-up “like.”

Chef Ben Hayes of the Peace of Cake Café at the Facebook facility in Altoona, Iowa, took home the 1st place honors – or Chef Par Excellence – at the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) Taste of Elegance competition. This year’s contest, held annually at the beginning of Iowa Pork Congress week, challenged chefs to prepare an entrée featuring a single serving of a crown roast of pork.

Hayes is in charge of the kitchen at Facebook’s Altoona and Pleasant Hill facilities, where 1,000 employees eat daily. For the Taste of Elegance competition, he prepared East Meets Midwest, which was a crown roast marinated in five spices and slightly charred. The rib pork chop from the crown roast was served with a marmalade, chiles and miso pickles. The judges commented on how perfectly executed the dish was, making it “hard to beat.”

Hayes received $1000 and a plaque in his effort to prepare the top entrée in a field of 9 chefs.

The judges selected Chef Ken VanMilligen of St. Kilda Surf & Turf in Des Moines for second place. VanMilligen also received the People’s Choice Award by those who attended the Taste of Elegance competition. VanMilligen prepared a rib from the crown roast that was served with a butternut squash puree. He received a plaque for each award and a total of $750.

Third place and the Media’s Choice Award went to Diego Critelli of The River Center in Des Moines. Critelli also received two plaques and $500. His crown roast of pork entry was served with figs and balsamic.

A crown roast of pork is made by forming a regular bone-in pork loin. Kelsey Sutter, IPPA’s marketing/programs director, said “The crown roast traditionally would be tied into a crown and stuffed to create a beautiful centerpiece for a special occasion. In this contest, chefs were challenged with cooking the roast whole and then serving it up for our judges in individual tomahawk or French cut chops to modernize this roast.”

One of the judges, Chef Kevin Scharpf of Dubuque, applauded the choice of that cut for the competition. “This a great idea as many chefs are looking at bringing back cuts and dishes from the past and modernizing them for today’s consumer. The crown roast of pork is a perfect example of that.” Scharpf was the winner of the 2014 Taste of Elegance competition.

The Taste of Elegance is a Pork Checkoff-funded culinary competition designed to inspire innovative and exciting ways to menu pork in restaurants. This event brings together talented chefs from across Iowa.

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