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SD Pork Producers Council holds Taste of Elegance Contest

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Nine Sioux Falls, S.D., area chefs participated in this year's South Dakota Pork Producers Council Taste of Elegance Contest. The 29th annual culinary competition has inspired innovative ways to menu pork and has been instrumental in increasing the amount of pork on restaurant menus.

National Pork Board Treasurer and South Dakota pork producer Steve Rommereim says years ago the only pork served at restaurants was on the breakfast menu, but that has all changed. He attributes some of that to the contest, which is held in several states in addition to South Dakota. I think these guys are seeing the versatility in pork and the broad range of stuff you can do with it," he says. "We've had everything from oriental today to Mexican and they all showcase pork. Well when they go back to their restaurants and their food services they're going to take some of this with them."

The Taste of Elegance Contest has also resulted in more consumers ordering pork when they are out to eat and cooking pork at home. "You know you get the top chefs in the state out there cooking for a lot of people and showcasing pork and making dishes this good, it leads to a greater appreciation by consumers and ultimately the industry selling more pork," Rommereim says.

Chef Roger Titze, of The Attic Bar & Grill in Sioux Falls, has competed in the pork cooking competition several times. He agrees it has been an important venue in introducing many chefs and consumers to the possibilities with pork. He says part of pork's strength is that it's an economical protein source. "Pork is kind of one of those ones where per pound it's not as much compared to beef or seafood, so it's just a matter of getting creative."

Titze says he really enjoys cooking with pork. "It's pretty diverse, so you know if one recipe calls for whatever protein, you can obviously sub in pork one way or another," he says. As a result, the amount of pork he features on the menu has increased in the past few years.

Chef Kelsey Anderson represented All Day Café and Taphouse 41, located in Sioux Falls. He prepared a Chai Whiskey Pork in which he infused Chai Whiskey into pork belly. "What you can do with pork and how tender it is means you can add different components and there is so much you can do out of a pig," says the past Taste of Elegance winner.

For Chef Scott Eastburn, of the Sheraton Hotel in Sioux Falls, this was his first time competing but he enlisted the help of his Shu Chef Richard Lockard to create the recipe, who had participated in past contests. Eastburn prepared an entree he says he'll feature at the hotel. "The dish is called Two Little Pigs," he says. "It's a bacon-wrapped tenderloin that we marinated in balsamic and brown sugar." They serve a lot of pork on their fast-casual hotel menu, Lockhard says, and have a pork rib eye on their current menu, plus braise pork in-house for use in sandwiches and Mexican dishes.

The youngest chef in the competition was Chef Nicholas Skajewski, who represented Carnaval Brazilian Grill in Sioux Falls. He says pork is a traditional meat in Brazil. "Pork is fun to cook with for many reasons," he says. "It's economical, it's cheap ... and honestly it's one of the easiest most versatile cuts of meat that you can use."

Judges for the contest continue to push the chefs to use various cuts of pork beyond pork chops and to incorporate more than one cut in their entree. Titze says it's a challenge to come up with a recipe that catches the attention of the judges. "Taste, originality and execution," he says of the judging. "You know, making sure you're cooking the ingredients properly and maintaining their integrity."

This year's winner was Chef Ryan Hembree with Trail Ridge Retirement Community in Sioux Falls, with his Vietnamese Style Spicy Pork Noodle Bowl. He won $1,000 cash and engraved crystal plaque sponsored by Zoetis. Hembree also is invited to attend the National Pork Board Pork Summit April 6 to 9 at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone Campus in Napa Valley, Calif.