SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Thirty years ago it was hard to find a pork entrée besides pork chops on any restaurant menu. However, today it's not uncommon to see pork belly, cheek or shoulder being featured on those same menus. The change can in part be attributed to the engagement the pork industry has had with chefs as part of their annual culinary Taste of Elegance contest.
The South Dakota Pork Producers Council held their 30th annual competition on Jan. 28 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center. The Taste of Elegance Competition is one of the pork industry's premier events in the food service industry.
This year's first-place entree, Japanese Pork Trio, featured pork cheek and pork shoulder prepared by Chef Jordan Taylor, who is the chef and co-owner at Bread and Circus Sandwich Kitchen in Sioux Falls.
This was Taylor's first time competing in South Dakota's Taste of Elegance, and he was excited about being part of the contest.
"We love pork," he said. "If you've been down to our place, it's very pork-heavy. A lot of curing done is in-house and whatnot. So, we thought it would be a good chance to show what we can do I guess."
He says he loves to cook with pork because it adapts to any cuisine.
"You can do anything to it. It's applicable to any cooking technique in the world and across the board," says Taylor.
Chef Bob Allen, with Ode to Food & Drinks, also of Sioux Falls, won the People's Choice Award with his Asian Pork Duo, which was a pork shoulder dish, highlighting the versatility of pork.
"It's come a long way in the last 10 years or so, and I think people are getting more acceptable to it," he said. "A lot of chefs are playing with different parts of the pork, so that's fun too."
Allen says the trick to cooking pork is a 145-degree center and letting the meat rest.
"Don't overcook it, that's the trick to pork. If you overcook it, it gets a little dry so stick a little under and you'll be fine," he said.
The Taste of Elegance contest was started to encourage chefs to create innovative and exciting recipes using pork. The culinary competition has ultimately increased pork on menus.
"Most restaurants do feature beef or chicken the most," said Craig Andersen, South Dakota Pork Producers Council first vice president. "So, by doing these types of events we're trying to get the restaurants to really know that they can use a lot of different pork items in their menu, also."
The entrees of the six chefs were judged on originality, taste, proper cooking techniques and appearance. The panel of judges included Chef Michael Foley, president/chief creative officer of Michael Foley Food and Vegetable Alchemy in Chicago, Ill.; Chef Tim McCarty, executive chef at Morrison, Mayo Foundation House, Rochester, Minn.; and Chef Ethan Spang, sous chef at Delmonico Grill, Rapid City, S.D., and 2017 Rapid City Taste of Elegance winner.
Chefs demonstrated abilities in multiple cuisines - Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Italian, French and Chinese - with techniques focusing on grill, saute, roast, sous vide, braising and pan sear.
"The results were exceptional, flavorful and marked with the added ingredient of creative initiative for well-made dishes," said judge Foley. "I always enjoy and respect the time and dedication a chef brings to this event. It adds to the special way the chefs of this area take pride in what they do, individually and as a group. Bravo!"
Taylor received an engraved crystal award, $1,000 and will attend the Pork Summit to be held this spring. He will have the opportunity to spend the weekend with celebrity chefs and celebrated chefs. They'll experience butchering and cooking demonstrations to help enhance their culinary skills. Chef Mike DeLay of Trail Ridge Retirement Community, Sioux Falls, received second place with Pork Collar Steak with Naples Style Pasta, and Chef Jean-Paul Nielsen of Kappa Alpha Theta-University of South Dakota, Vermillion, S.D., received third place with Asian Fusion Pork.
The chefs prepared samples of their entrees for an evening event of nearly 320 people who attended this year's Taste of Elegance Contest.