That means cutting-edge restaurant chefs are giving pork entrées more than a perfunctory nod on their menus. The Wisconsin Pork Producers Association helps this along with the annual Taste of Elegance contest, which rewards chefs for thinking creatively as they cook with pork.
This year’s top entry was Duo of Pork, pork strudel and brine-marinated whole tenderloin wrapped in bacon, submitted by executive chef Matt Baier of Dream Dance Steak, Milwaukee. It will be added to the restaurant’s menu next month.
Also on the winning plate: romesco aioli, edamame pesto, parsnip puree and a soy bean cracker.
These accompaniments made the plate both colorful and pretty, an artistic presentation. The deliberate and tasty use of soy (in the pesto and cracker) earned Dream Dance an extra award, for best use of soy, because a contest co-sponsor was the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board.
Also new on the Dream Dance menu in March is an arugula salad with pork sausage, thyme-scented ricotta and the chef’s version of a red wine vinaigrette.
Matt describes his culinary style as “simple yet refined.” He brought charcuterie production in-house after joining Dream Dance in 2011, and that gives him “ultimate control over preparations of the restaurant’s bacon, sausages, pancetta and prosciutto.”
Chef Jason Demers of Christian’s Bistro, Plover, was the Taste of Elegance contest’s runner-up, for his clever Green Eggs and Ham. christiansbistro.com, 715-344-3100
Next was chef Vincent Franz of Wild Canyon Café, Wisconsin Dells, for Asian Braised Pork Belly with a Sweet Chili Slaw, Pina Colada Infused Rice, Fried Rice Noodles and Candied Edamame. wildernessresort.com, 608-253-9729
The People’s Choice award went to chef Kurt Wagner of the Machine Shed, Pewaukee, for his Spicy Caramel Apple Pork Loin recipe. machineshed.com/pewaukee, 262-523-1322
Dream Dance Steak, 1721 W. Canal St., Milwaukee, is a dinner-only restaurant and a part of Potawatomi Casino. paysbig.com, 414-847-7883
Here is a part of the chef’s winning pork entry.
Bacon-wrapped Pork Tenderloin
1 whole pork tenderloin (about 9 ounces)
Bacon strips, enough to wrap
1/2 gallon water
1/2 cup kosher salt
6 tablespoons honey
6 bay leaves
1/4 cup raw garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 large rosemary sprigs, fresh
1 lemon, juiced and rind added
Bring all brine ingredients to a boil and boil for 2 minutes to dissolve the salt. Remove from heat and cool.
Submerge pork tenderloin in brine for 24 hours, then remove and dry with clean towel. Wrap tenderloin with bacon strips. Then wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
Place the bacon-wrapped tenderloin in a Cryovac (vacuum-sealed) bag and submerge it in a 125-degree immersion circulator for one hour.* Remove meat from bag by cutting away plastic. Dry the tenderloin with a paper towel.
Place sauté pan on medium heat; add small amount of oil. Sear bacon around all sides of tenderloin, until crisp. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing into 1-ounce pieces, three to a plate.
* If you don’t have an immersion circulator, the chef says it’s fine to sear the meat first. Then cook it in a preheated, 500-degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Let rest briefly, then slice.
The chef who first earned Dream Dance its reputation for creativity and quality is Jason Gorman, who earned a Best Chef Midwest nomination from the James Beard Foundation before moving to Milwaukee’s Iron Horse Hotel. Since 2012, he’s been executive chef at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. artic.edu, 312-443-3600
The work sometimes feeds the public in artful ways. Here is a recipe that the chef contributed for the art institute’s recent “Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine” exhibition.
Sweet Corn Spoonbread with Fried Tomatoes
6 tablespoons butter
1 leek, small dice (whites only)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup fresh shucked sweet corn
1 tablespoon garlic, roasted
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, room temperature, separated
For fried tomatoes:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 heirloom tomatoes, diced
3 ounces fresh basil, finely shredded/cut
1 lemon, zested
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium saucepan, cook leeks with 1 tablespoon of butter over medium flame until translucent; do not brown. Next, scald milk (do not boil); stir in the butter, leeks, sweet corn, roasted garlic, fresh thyme, cornmeal and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until cornmeal comes away from sides of pan and thickens.
Set aside to cool until lukewarm. Add beaten egg yolks; mix thoroughly. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites; mix gently but thoroughly. Pour into greased 2-quart baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for one hour, or until top is golden brown.
While spoonbread is in oven, place olive oil in a medium saucepan, and heat over a medium flame. Next, add minced garlic and cook until golden brown. Add diced tomatoes, basil, lemon zest and salt. Cook tomatoes about 3 minutes.
Serve spoonbread hot out of the oven, with tomatoes spooned over the top.