Local chef competes in national competition


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One local chef may put Iowa City on the national map for an original muffin recipe.

Aimee Kirkpatrick, the general manager of the bakery at the Java House, 211½ E. Washington St., has been selected as a semifinalist in the second U.S. Foods Next Top Product contest. After being chosen for her original Strawberry Basil Muffin recipe, Kirkpatrick can barely wait for Friday to arrive in order to hear whether she moves onto the final rounds in Las Vegas.

“I kind of did it on a whim,” the Iowa City native said. “I just wanted to do something that could show off some of my talents.”

U.S. Foods — a foodservice distributor based in Rosemont, Ill. — sponsored the contest earlier this summer. Kirkpatrick competed against more than 1,000 hopefuls; today, she is one of 54 semifinalists, and that number will be whittled down to eight on Friday. Those finalists will participate in a face-off competition at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas on Nov. 8. A team of culinary experts from U.S. Foods assessed the online recipe submissions based on creativity, consumer appeal, sales opportunity, and the ability to commercially produce the product.

“We always try to go with the new trends,” Kirkpatrick said in describing the Java House philosophy. “A lot of times, we will just use some base recipes and alter them to experiment with new tastes.”

After working at the Java House for a little over a year, Kirkpatrick discovered her delicious muffin in July. Her muffin is served as a traditional breakfast option or paired with coffee as a dessert item.

“It’s a kind of weird combination, but it’s really good,” said Java House customer Megan Dibbern. “It’s really sweet from the strawberry, and the basil makes it really savory.”

Each month, chefs at the Java House try to create new recipes and test them around a dozen times before they decide on the final products. With almost five years of experience as a chef — including around three years at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City — Kirkpatrick is a little anxious about the competition.

The 54 semifinalists and their recipes can now be viewed online at the U.S. Foods website for the public to vote on their favorite choice. The top eight competitors with the most votes by Friday will head to Las Vegas.

Contestants stand to win up to $20,000 in cash and prizes, and their recipes will also be morphed into a U.S. Foods product, which will be distributed throughout the nation as part of the company’s new product launch in 2014.

Tara Cronbaugh, the owner of the Java House, said Kirkpatrick is always a very calm, cool, and collected individual even in times where they are baking several thousand items a day. She also said Kirkpatrick always creates an enjoyable atmosphere for everyone no matter how stressful the situation may be.

“Aimee is a huge asset to our company,” Cronbaugh wrote in an email. “We are extremely proud of her dedication, passion, and perseverance. She is the driver for our bakery department creativity and inspiration.”

Sam Kron, the culinary food operations manager at Heirloom Salad Co. — which partners with the Java House — has worked with Kirkpatrick for almost three years. He said he encouraged her to submit her recipe. Kron also submitted his Chipotle Aioli spread but did not make it past the first round. His mayonnaise garlic spread is one of the most popular dressings and toppings at Heirloom.

“We’re super proud of what she’s done,” Kron said. “With as many entries as there were, it’s amazing, and we are super happy, and we are all trying to support her.”

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