Chef Josh Wilkins, Chef de Cuisine with ISU Dining, took home top honors at the 37th annual Taste contest hosted by the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) on Jan. 22. Wilkins earned the title of Chef Par Excellence for his pork braciole entrée.

“I was blown away to get first place overall,” Wilkins said. “When I sent my plates to the judges, I was really proud of what I was serving them, and I received a lot of good feedback while at the tasting reception. I was still surprised when my name was announced.”

Taste is a Pork Checkoff-funded culinary competition designed to inspire innovative and exciting ways to add pork to menus in restaurants. This year the contestants had to prepare an entrée featuring boneless pork loin.

“Braciole is a classic Italian dish; I think of it as Italian soul food,” Wilkins said.

To prepare the dish, Wilkins pounded the loin thin and then stuffed it with spinach and parmesan. It was rolled and then braised in a rustic marinara. He served it on a bed of creamy parmesan polenta with basil pistou.

The idea for the dish stemmed from his time working in New York with an Italian family.

“It was a good way to elevate the pork loin without being too pretentious. It’s a dish I’ve done before so I was confident that everyone would enjoy it,” Wilkins added.

In addition to winning top honors from the judges, Wilkins’ pork braciole also won the People’s Choice award, which was voted on by the people at the tasting reception who tried all the dishes in the competition. “That felt pretty special,” Wilkins said. “I received an email from a former judge who said it was one of the best she had ever had there.”

This is the first time he’s entered the Taste Competition, or any cooking competition.

Wilkins has worked at ISU Dining for just over a year. Josh and the ISU Dining team are considering possible ways to incorporate this dish into a menu on campus, possibly for a catered event or a special event in the dining centers.