‘Italian Soul Food’ takes top prize at Iowa Pork Congress

This year’s event challenged the nine participating chefs to prepare an entrée featuring boneless pork loin.

January 25, 2024

2 Min Read

A chef from Iowa State University won this year’s Taste competition, which traditionally kicks off Iowa Pork Congress week in Des Moines.

Joshua Wilkins, Chef de Cuisine with ISU Dining in Ames, claimed first place—or Chef Par Excellence—at the 37th annual Taste contest, hosted by the Iowa Pork Producers Association. This year’s event challenged the nine participating chefs to prepare an entrée featuring boneless pork loin.

Wilkins created a “classic Italian soul food,” which also earned the People’s Choice award by those who attended a tasting reception. To prepare his pork braciole, the pork loin was laid flat, pounded thin, and stuffed with spinach and parmesan polenta, then rolled and braised in tomato sauce. The dish was served with creamy parmesan polenta and basil pistou.

“I wanted to do something that elevated the pork loin, while at the same time being very approachable,” said Wilkins, adding that the dish was a nod to his time working at an Italian family restaurant in New York. He sourced the pork from Beeler’s Pork in Le Mars.

Wilkins earned a plaque for each award, and a total of $1,250.

The judges selected Tanner Killinger, with Des Moines Embassy Club, for second place, or Superior Chef. Killinger offered five-spice brined pork loin sous vide, with whipped butternut squash, parmesan Reggiano and pistachio tuile, calvados sauce, and micro greens. He received a plaque and $500.

Third place—Premier Chef—went to Tony Pelican with Company Kitchen, the food and catering partner of EMC Insurance Companies in Des Moines. He served a boneless pork loin banh mi sandwich with ramen noodle salad. He took home a plaque and $250.

Paul McDermott, of Wildwood in Iowa City, was designated Media’s Choice by invited media professionals. He also won a plaque and $250.

Boneless pork loin, which has never been a featured cut for the competition, is underappreciated but has tremendous value in terms of versatility, according to Kelsey Sutter, IPPA’s marketing and programs director.

“The chefs demonstrated that well,” she said “When I stepped back and looked at all the plates, they were all using the same cut of pork, except they were all completely different dishes with different flavor profiles—everything from Italian to Cajun to Mexican.”

Taste is a Pork Checkoff-funded culinary competition designed to inspire innovative and exciting ways to menu pork in restaurants. The event brings together talented chefs from across the state, and IPPA provided each with a $200 stipend to offset the cost of the pork.

Video highlights of the event are available here:

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