After hearing of the Taste of Elegance and being invited and then asked to be a guest judge by Mary Kalpinski (the associations Executive Director) I now have an even greater appreciation for pork and all it’s possibilities! The Michigan Taste of Elegance is an annual chef’s competition which is in it’s 22nd year. It is designed to encourage chefs to creatively prepare and feature a dish using pork. The main rule is simple: each chef must create a main entrée recipe utilizing fresh pork. They can not use pork tenderloin or ground pork as a main ingredient any other part it fair game. Finally, the pork entrée can not be on their current menu.
Smells and Tastes from Heaven!
And the winner is… Chef Ian Ramirez of Creative Dining Services. Ian works both with Calvin College and for his own company as an executive/personal chef for people like the president of Whirlpool. His plate was a joy to look at as well as to partake of. The mashed potato was topped with the most flavorful and tender pork collar I’ve ever had. The asparagus was perfect and the pastry cage was a unique pleasure. However, the Bacon Truffle Sponge Cake was (yes, I said BACON and CAKE) more than perfect. Many chefs are starting to play with things like liquid nitrogen and other techniques to add a creative flare. The problem is they usually lack flavor, consistency or quality. Well, Congratulations Ian you had the whole package-creativity, texture and outstanding flavor!
Around the Room
Unfortunately in order to keep this article at a manageable size I must move along. So, Chefs if I miss you, I apologize. I will try to hit the rest of the highlights and skip around the room.
The above plate by Chef Jeffery Langer of the Lansing Center was one I had the true privledge of being a guest judge of and it was a winner. In fact, Jeffery’s creation won the People’s Choice Award. This French trimmed pork chop was smoked with pecan shells and applewood and topped with a cherry chutney sauce and was melt in your mouth tender. The pulled pork risotto was mild and not overpowering. Finally the bacon wrapped asparagus tasted like it was just picked and cooked in grandmas kitchen, it was fantastic!
Next, Chef Phil Fahrenbruch of The Bavarian Inn of Frankenmuth putting together his dish with a Spanish flare. This dish was southwest good! Something very different and it really worked. Coming from a chicken kitchen I have to tell you I would let him cook pork for me any day. I can’t wait to eat with Phil again.
Chef Isaac of Cuisines By Isaac, a restaurant in Grand Ledge, really intrigued us with his “Pork Butt Mountain”. This dish had serious flavor and because of it you will see a review by Dine Michigan of his restaurant very soon!
Seriously, check out The State Room’s chef Matt Wilson. This Asian style dish with the tender pork, perfectly cooked vegetables was a riot of flavor. The roe and wonton garnish really added flare. From the succulent tender pork and the salty smoothness of the roe, to the crispy crunch of the wonton it throws your mouth into complete textural confusion; it was all amazing! When in East Lansing don’t forget about the State Room .
Chefs Present Your Dish
Chef Phillip Baxeman of The View Restaurant presents his dish to the judges for their trial taste which was outstanding and certainly not lacking in flavor. Chef Geoffrey Jones of Lobdell’s from Great Lakes Culinary Institute offered another of my favorites with the “Pork and Pasta” and putting the salad in the pasta was quite a treat. And Chef Ronald Canales is from the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center (the State Room also). He showed up at the table with a fig stuffed pork loin that packed richly layered flavors. A truly delightful dish.
Next, was my vote for the peoples choice. I loved the simply elegance in the presentation and flavor of the “Asian Street Food” as presented by Chef Todd Van Wieren of The Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant in Holland. After this dish Dine Michigan added another restaurant to the top of our must review restaurants.
Finally, to the other chefs… Chef Dena Carey of D-Lish Dish in DeWitt brought it with Mediterranean flare and more great flavor. Chef Eric Batten of The Gallery at M.S.U. added shrimp to the pork dumpling, a spicy pork lettuce wrap and then an out of this world pork wonton for 2nd place in the event. I can tell you in some judges minds saying this was close to being crowned champ is an understatement! Chef Mark Hobart of Bloomfield Hills Schools left the school food at home. His pork morel with blackberry coulis was a dish I didn’t have a chance to get to however, was told he was a front-runner in this competition. Chef David Payne of the Private Edgewood Country Club brought the only other dish I didn’t have the pleasure of trying. His presentation was simply elegant with four sliced pork medallions atop German potato salad and braised cabbage I was told was very tasty and I can say for sure the one that just made my mouth water looking at those suculant medallions.
End to the Tasting!
This brings an end to a fantastic event so please join me here next year. The staff put together an event I won’t miss again and chefs I suggest you get ready now as they only take 15 participants. Judges, I would like to thank Steven Grostick the 2011 winner from Toasted Oak Grill & Market, David Rensi of Opus and finally, Kevin Cronin of Dusty’s Wine Bar in Okemos. You had your work cut out for you as these chefs all had great presentations, combinations, flavors and of course GREAT USE OF PORK!
See you at The Michigan Pork Producers Association‘s Taste of Elegance in 2013!