This post is sponsored by the Ohio Pork Council. All opinions are my own.
Most of the time I am reporting on food that I’ve made, but today I get to share my experience judging others food at the Ohio Pork Taste of Elegance!
Last week I posted about how my partnership with the Ohio Pork Council gave me the opportunity to visit a local Pig Farm. This week I am showing you the other end of the spectrum as I also had the pleasure of serving as one of the three judges for The Ohio Pork Council and American Culinary Federation’s annual Taste of Elegance Competition, hosted at the Doubletree in downtown Columbus on January 24, 2018. Yup, I am going straight from happy, adorable pigs to delicious pork on your plate. After seeing how well cared for the pigs are, I feel zero guilt. But I digress.
Taste of Elegance is a friendly competition working to promote and educate Ohio Chefs about pork and the Ohio pig farmers that raise them with the overaching goal of the participating chefs promoting pork in their individual locations. Three chefs competed and prepared an appetizer and entree, both featuring pork. The winner was selected based on taste (50 points), appearance (30 points), and originality (20 points). While only one could come in first, every chef won a piece of the prize with awards going to The Chef Par Excellence (1st place $1000), The Superior Chef (2nd place $500), The Premier Chef (3rd place$250), and of course The People’s Choice Award as chosen by the reception attendees.
As I mentioned, I was one of the three judges representing different areas including chef, food service industry, culinary education, and media. My fellow judges were who sat in for Chef Michael Deligatta, Chef Par Excellence in the 2017 Taste of Elegance from the Inn at Versailles (Drew Eckert from the Ohio Pork Council sat in for him briefly), and Chef Chuck Langstaff, longtime supporter of OPC and known as the “Prince of Pork”. And of course I brought my camera and snapped some decent photos for you to drool over (despite the fluorescent lighting).
The first contestant was Chef Ryan Berlin (OSU Wexner Medical Center), who prepared for us some sesame crusted glazed baby back ribs served with kimchee and pork belly and baby back pot stickers served over soba noodles with pickled red cabbage, carrots, and magi pepper coulis. His flavors all paired exceptionally well, I loved the contrast of the crust on the ribs versus the tenderness of the pork, and was well plated.
Next was Chef Aaron Braun (The Meadowlark) who started his Southern California meets Ohio menu off with an Al Pastor style roasted pork belly served atop a fresh fried cornmeal sopa with grilled pineapple and pickled red onion. The entree was a pickled pork butt braised in stewed tomatoes and served with verde sauce and cotija cheese over cheddar grits. His pork preparations were very tender, I really enjoyed the blend of genres, and I though his presentation was the most approachable.
And finally, Chef Todd McDunn (Lakeview Café, Scotts Miracle Gro Campus) served us Thai pork ribs with a green mango pork salad and a red curry pork belly with pork and crab sausage. The ribs were chewy but in the most amazing way and they paired so well with the sauce. As for the pork belly, it was absolute melt-in-your-mouth perfection. And the presentation was also beautifully creative. My only comment was that while impressive to make his own sausage, I did not think the dish gained anything by its presence and would have been just as delicious without it.
And the winner? Drum roll please… Chef Todd McDunn took top honors, earning the coveted Chef Par Excellence award! There was honestly a very small margin between the chefs, and despite the extra sausage Chef Todd McDunn’s dishes were slightly more creative. He will continue on to a national event called the Pork Summit to learn more about pigs, pork, and farming. Chef Aaron Braun was named Superior Chef, while Chef Ryan Berlin was selected Premier Chef. Chef Aaron Braun also earned the People’s Choice award, which I was happy to hear about because I has a weakness for fusian food.
Thanks again to the Ohio Pork Council for inviting me to be a judge! I wish I could have eaten each dish in it’s entirety but the other judges agreed, we would have had to be rolled out of there. Everything each chef prepared was exceptional and should all be proud of what they made. And by the way, I may have asked for the recipes for all of these creations, and I may have gotten most of them. Not that I will be recreating them entirely but I suspect some inspiration pulling will be done in the near future.
One year ago: Slow Cooker Corned Beef Tacos
Two years ago: S’mores Lucky 7-Layer Bars
Three years ago: Buckeye Whoopie Pies
Six years ago: St. Patrick’s Day Recipe Roundup (2012)
Seven years ago: Heart-Stuffed Shells in a Ricotta Sauce