Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Taste of Elegance 2009!

Congratulations to the winners of this year's Taste of Elegance pork competition. I was a judge this year along with Chef Tony Hanslits (Chef's Academy), Casey Kenley (dine magazine), Chef Brandon Hamilton (last year's winner), and our man in pork and past president of Indiana Pork from Muncie. (Who I must apologize in advance to for not writing down his name.)

I didn't stay for the awards, but I can share:

1) The quality of all 11 entries was very high. I'm not talking about 11 dishes with 3 or 4 really good. We, as judges collectively had 7 or 8 dishes we'd ranked very highly.

2) The judges, while all experts, did not come to consensus right away on the top 5 or 6 dishes. I mean this to say that it wasn't one of those situations where we all agreed on 1, 2 and 3, then had to decide the rest. We averaged our five scores and ranked accordingly.

3) There was less than a point separating the top 3 scores. There was about half a point between 1 and 2. Was it close? Oh, yes. Even down to fifth or sixth place.

4) There was a wide variety of preparations, cuts, cooking styles and more. Ironically, the biggest failures were the most traditional prep. It's interesting to see how innovative cooking techniques (or well executed but less common classic preparations) won out consistently over the tired and true grill, roast, or "pulled-pork"-style braise.

So, without further ado:

Chef Par Excellence (First): Ryan Nelson, Oceanaire Seafood Room
Pork Sweetbreads (with caul fat on a bed of lentils, working with one of the most difficult parts of a pig, this dish was tender, perfectly seasoned with a well-balanced richness.)

Superior Chef Award (Second): Jeff Bane, The Chef’s Academy
Butter "Scotched" Pork (Holy Crap, I've never had meat the texture of this dish. It was so tender, it was unreal. It was like pork confit.)

Premium Chef Award (Third): Steven R. Masch, Mudsock’s Grill, Noblesville
Yuctan-style Roast Pork in Banana Leaves with Habernero Mint Gastrique (Perfect flavor combinations all centered around the starring-role pork.)

People’s Choice Favorite EntrĂ©e: Greg Schiesser, Indiana Downs
Ginger/Cherry Braised Pork and Crispy Pork Streudel (This might have been my personal favorite -- loved the texture and crust on the pork, the cherry/apple compote, and even the pastry streudel.)

People’s Choice Best Display: Jeff Bane, The Chef’s Academy (With his "Scotched" pork display)

Then, a note about the wine pairings. We judged the wine pairing award (won by Indiana Downs) separately and thank goodness we did. Chefs were only given a few minutes to pick an Indiana wine provided (we were told) by the winemakers. Winemakers?! Why on Earth would you not have whites ready at serving temperature? Why on Earth would someone not be opening and tasting these bottles? (One wine was corked and undrinkable!) If Indiana winemakers want to be taken more seriously as producers of quality products, they need to start acting like it and ensure their wines are served properly. (Only one white of the 8 or so we were served was even remotely cold.)

Even with the weather, it was a great turnout by all -- and of course, my favorite piggy ice sculpture was back! I had a blast (thanks for asking me!) and congratulations to all the chefs who braved the weather to come out. Pictures of the dishes, the chefs and crews, and more at Flickr.


Country Mouse City Mouse Indy said...

Can you speak to which chefs used the Gunthorp pork that was made available, and especially which chef's came to Ivy Tech to help with the butchering? This was brought up at the Slow Food meeting on Sunday, but no names were mentioned.

braingirl said...

I have no idea who was using what sort of pork -- Gunthorp, Fiedler, Fischer -- any of them. Thom England would know better who came up for the butchering. (I do know this: The quality of the pork alone would not have carried your dish. I'd wager nearly everyone used home grown product.)

jkmerritt said...

I would like to address your comments about the Indiana wines for this event. The Indiana Wine Grape Council, who educate and market our 36 actives wineries and dozens of potential wineries, coordinated this portion of the night. It was my understand that the chefs would pick their wine, the Roof Ballroom staff would take it and chill it quickly and then serve it to the judges.
As for a wine being corked, every chef tasted the wine before they chose a particular bottle. So if one bottle was corked, I would think the chef would recognize that. As you know, cork taint is estimated to be present in roughly 9% of the nations wine supply. It's not just an Indiana issue.
Indiana wineries are also being taken seriously. Our wineries win medals in international competitions. We host one of the largest wine compeitions in the entire country, brining in wine and judges from all around the world. And the two million people who visit our wineries every year enjoy the experience they have.
Thank you for your blog and the service you provide the area.
Jeanette Merritt
Marketing Director
Indiana Wine Grape Council

ssargent said...

I just want to provide a defense to the Indiana Wine Makers. The representative from the Indiana Wine Grape Council planned on being there at 3 pm to have the wines chilled and ready to go. Due to the inclement weather and traveling from West Lafayette, she did not make it until 4:30. The wineries provided the wines to her to bring in advance and had nothing to do with the preparation. We were running on a tight schedule and the wine pairing suffered from that.

Just wanted to provide that clarification.

Thanks again for your participation,

Sarah Ford
Indiana Pork

braingirl said...

We judges *specifically* asked who was responsible for the corked bottle. And we were *repeatedly* told by servers that *they* opened the bottle. I don't think you can pin this one on the chef. The stats on cork taint have nothing to do with this problem -- sommeliers in restaurants (and we consumers) deal with it all the time. Wine should be opened and tasted, declared to be clean *before* being served to judges for crying out loud. I get the issue with the weather -- not ideal, but still. If I were you, I would have been embarassed. (If I was a winemaker, I'd be *furious*.) (And frankly, if I were a chef, I would have just said "no thanks" to the pairing. We scored most of them at zero as it was.)

Sorry, Indiana Wine Grape folks, but if you're going to compete with A-level chefs, you've got to bring your A game to the competition.