Top Chef of Iowa City is crowned

BY AUDREY DWYER | MARCH 28, 2013 5:00 AM

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Tuesday night's Top Chef: Iowa City competition sorted the wheat from the chaff with local cuisine. Chefs from 14 restaurants and four breweries joined together in lively competition at hotelVetro, each bringing a unique representation of their establishment's menu.

A trickle of hungry eyes looked around, contemplating which food, drink, or dessert to try first. Tickets were sold out, and people from all over eastern Iowa attended the event.

"It was nice to talk to the chefs one-on-one, because it was interesting to hear what went into the dish, why everything was on the plate, and that the salad and vegetables were freshly picked yesterday," said Jory Hilpipre about the restaurant XIE, 223 E. Washington St., and his first time attending the Top Chef event.

Former Hawkeye football player Nate Kaeding, one of the owners of Short's Burger & Shine, was a member of the judge panel and agreed with Hilpipre's sentiment.

"I'm a sucker for the story behind it," Kaeding said. "It goes back to, where was the food sourced? Especially here and around Iowa, many people tend to gravitate toward local products." 

Because of Kaeding's ownership of Shorts Burger and Shine,18 S. Clinton St., as well as Stella, 1006 Melrose Ave., he did not take part in the judging for the culinary dish category.

"I think there was a great representation of each restaurant through the food tonight," he said. "Each restaurant used quality ingredients that were either healthy or had a focus on local products."

After the judging, small portions of each featured item filled the upstairs rooms of hotelVetro for patron tasting. Mixologists set up in a smaller room with an intimate atmosphere for bartenders to make drinks. Between the two rooms, the breweries had tables advertising their craft beers with full cups, awaiting the crowd's arrival. The band Small Container Trio played jazz during the event.

A flash of fire caught the eye of those who entered the mixologist room as the Clinton Street Social Club mixologist showcased the winning "Grandpa's Coffin Cocktail." Brian Lovejoy with his Southern drawl and recognizable raven tattoo on the left side of his neck hastily made each drink with flair of personality as well as precision of each ingredient, including premium bourbon from Cedar Ridge Distillery, apple brandy (stirred not shaken), muddled cane sugar, orange, Angostura, and cherry bark bitters, all chilled with honey-chamomile ice, finished with Lagavulin spritz, and topped with lemon twist and flamed orange.

"It's like an art that we are trying make for people," said Tim Skinner, one of the bartenders at Clinton Street Social Club. "Bitters were primarily used in the 1800s and 1900s to make cocktails during the speakeasy Prohibition era. We try to incorporate that ideology as inspiration for many of our drinks."

Overall the event was said to keep improving as the years go by. Kaeding expects next year to be even better.

"I wouldn't change anything for next year except to make it bigger and better," he said. "Hopefully, the event can conwtinue to grow and expose more people to it. The demand is certainly there."

Top Chef Iowa City Winners:

• Top Chef: Gern Blanston from Short's Burger and Shine
18 S. Clinton
• Top Pastry Chef: Veronica Tessler from Yoptopia
132 S. Clinton
• People's Choice-Top Chef: Brian Kirkman from Linn Street Café
121 N. Linn
• People's Choice Pastry Chef: Abbie Misfeldt from Molly's Cupcakes
14 S. Clinton
• People's Choice Best Brew: Backpocket Brewing
903 Quarry Road, Coralville
• People's Choice Mixologist: Brian Lovejoy from Clinton Street Social Club
18½ S. Clinton

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