The recipe in this post was mentioned in News Bites (page 6) of the September/October issue of Chef Magazine.

Stephan Hesse, former executive chef of The Oak Grill in Minneapolis and executive chef of a forthcoming Kona Grill in Eden Prairie, Minn., won top honors in the 20th annual national Taste of Elegance contest held June 29 in Baltimore. The competition, sponsored by the Pork Checkoff, featured 29 chefs, all winners of state and regional Taste of Elegance contests. Hesse earned Chef Par Excellence honors and a check for $5,000 with his winning entrée of Curry Pork Belly with Coconut Panna Cotta (recipe, below).

Hesse, a third-time Taste of Elegance competitor, told Chef Magazine that his strategy for success was to focus on clean flavors and not muddle his dish with too many elements. "I've done this [competition] three times in a row, and every time, the judges told me [during the feedback session] to keep it simple."

Hesse says the simple flavors he chose to highlight this time around were Thai-based, since he's a fan of curries. He decided to braise pork belly, slice it and serve it sandwich-style on a bao bun. The judges were instructed to put together the sandwich on their own and spoon the coconut panna cotta on top as a condiment.

Other chefs who received honors at the contest include: chef Stephen Marshall of Medici at the Ritz Carlton in Las Vegas and instructor at Le Cordon Bleu-Las Vegas, who earned the Superior Chef Award and $2,000, as well as Media Choice award from the national foodservice media judges, with his Spiced Pork Belly recipe; and chef Mark Brown of The River Club in Suwanne, Ga., who earned the Premium Chef Award and $1,000 with his Piedmont Pork recipe.

The chef-judges for this year's event included:
Marc Orfaly, Pigalle, Boston
Deb Paquette, Zola, Nashville, Tenn.
Kent Rathbun, Abacus, Dallas
Joseph Royer, Saturn Grill, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Charlie Torgerson, Famous Dave's, Minneapolis
Tyler Wiard of Elway's, Denver

Competing chefs had the opportunity to attend an abridged version of Pork 101, a Checkoff-funded short course that focuses on pork quality, consistency and value, as well as a butchering demo that also highlighted newer marketed cuts of pork.

The Checkoff partnered with Cargill, featuring Sysco Corp.'s premium White Marble Farms in providing pork for the competition.

The Taste of Elegance contest was created to encourage chefs to use pork more frequently in creative, nontraditional ways. For more information on the Taste of Elegance or the National Pork Board, visit www.porkfoodservice.org.

Curry Pork Belly with Coconut Panna Cotta
Stephan Hesse, executive chef, formerly of The Oak Grill, Minneapolis

Yield: 8-10 portions

1 gal. water
3 c. kosher salt
3 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
2 gal. apple cider
1 gal. apple juice
1/2 gal. cider vinegar
5 lbs. pork belly
Pork Fat Glaze (recipe follows)
Pork Stock (recipe follows)
Curry Sauce (recipe follows)
Bao buns, sliced, for serving
Coconut Panna Cotta (recipe follows)

Method (1) In pan, boil water, salt, sugar, peppercorns and bay leaf just until salt and sugar dissolve. In large container, combine sugar-salt solution with apple cider, apple juice and cider vinegar, and place in cooler. When cool, place pork belly in brine; cover and place in cooler for at least 24 hours. (2) Remove pork belly from brine, using paper towels to soak up remaining moisture from pork. (3) Score the skin side of the fat with sharp knife. Lightly brush pork belly with Pork Fat Glaze. (4) Sear skin-side down on very hot flat top or large sauté pan. Cook for a few minutes per side, letting skin get caramel brown. (5) Place pork into braising pan. Fill pan with cold Pork Stock, completely covering belly. Cover with plastic wrap and aluminum foil (or steel top if you have one that fits). Place into 350°F oven 2 1/2 hours or until pork is tender, but not falling apart. When pork is finished, place into cooler until completely cold, 12-14 hours. (6) When pork is cool, remove pork from pan; remove and reserve excess braising liquid from pork. Slice pork into strips, cutting from back to belly, 1/2" in width. When pork is cut, trim at most 50 percent of the fat from top (make sure to take off the skin at least). (7) Score fat side again with a sharp knife. Place pork into shallow pan, fat-side up, and then add reserved braising liquid into pan, only to cover 25 percent of the pork. (8) Brush pork lightly with the Pork Fat Glaze, and place into a 425°F oven 18-25 minutes; cook pork until fat gets crisp with a dark caramel color. Brush pork at least 3 times with Pork Fat Glaze while it's in the oven. (9) When pork is finished, drain 90 percent of juices from pan, and let pork sit for at least 10-12 minutes to let belly firm up for slicing and tossing with Curry Sauce. Serve with sliced bao buns and Coconut Panna Cotta.

Pork Stock
30 lbs. pork bones
2 lbs. carrots, large dice
2 lbs. celery, large dice
1 lb. onion, large dice
Olive oil, as needed
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb. tomato paste
1 bottle Merlot
Water, as needed
3 bay leaves
1/2 c. black peppercorns
3 oz. fresh thyme

Method (1) Place bones tossed with carrots, celery and onion on sheet pans drizzled with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Place in 350°F oven until bones are roasted to a dark brown. (2) With a rubber spatula, smear tomato paste over bones evenly, place back in oven to caramelize tomato paste. Distribute wine at the bottom of pans to deglaze pans. (3) Place everything (including juice) into a large stockpot, fill pot with water (covering bones) and bring to a slow simmer for at least 8 hours. (4) Render fat from top, and reserve for Pork Fat Glaze preparation. (5) Strain stock, and place in ice bath to cool. Place in cooler for later use. Chef's note: Add a little bit of beef base to braising liquid at about 45 minutes left of cooking to enrich flavor of stock, if desired.

Pork Fat Glaze
Reserved pork fat from Pork Stock preparation
Curry spice, as needed

Method (1) Use all the pork fat rendered from the Pork Stock. Strain to get rid of unwanted particles. (2) Depending on amount of fat that was reserved from stock, use 1 t. curry spice to 1 c. of fat. Let sit at room temperature, and reserve for pork belly reheating preparation.

Curry Sauce
1 c. Lemongrass, chopped
10 Kaffir lime leaves, chopped
5 Thai chilies, cut in half
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 T. ginger, chopped
1 t. pink peppercorns, whole
1 t. black peppercorns, whole
2 1/2 T. Chef Spice
1 1/2 T. curry powder
2 limes (cut in quarters)
18 oz. red curry paste
2 c. pork stock
2 T. honey
1 t. salt
1 T. Harissa powder
1 t. smoked paprika
1 t. turmeric
1 t. garam marsala
2 T. butter cold

Method (1) Combine all ingredients except butter in saucepan; simmer for at least 1/2 hour so flavors can come through. (2) Strain once to take out large particles. Finish with butter and keep warm for service.

Coconut Panna Cotta
1/2 gal. heavy cream
2 1/2 c. whole milk
1 1/2 c. half and half
1 pkg. Coquito nuts, toasted and peeled
2 1/2 c. unsweetened coconut
2 1/2 c. unsweetened coconut, toasted
1 c. almond slices, toasted
1 t. kosher salt
25 oz. Coconut Perfect Puree
13 sheets gelatin, soaked in ice water for at least 10 minutes

Method (1) Mix all ingredients in a saucepan, and simmer, mixing often, for 1/2 hour to bring coconut flavor out. Pull gelatin out of water; squeeze water out. Add to sauce and let dissolve, about 5 minutes. Strain mixture through fine strainer, place in desired vessel and place in refrigerator to chill 7 hours or until firm.