[All images in this post have were taken by Evan Cohen, who was working for the National Pork Board and the Iowa Pork Producers Association, during the Mid-Atlantic Taste of Elegance, November 10, 2008.]

Since 1998, I’ve been working with the National Pork Board. It’s an exceptional group of people, and they offer a unique experience for those with whom I work in the wine business.

As part of the NPB’s strategic marketing for each year, it supports regional Taste of Elegance events, which then become part of a national event that focuses on each of the regional winning chefs. At each regional, chefs compete for cash prizes and the prestige of being one of their winning chefs. The national event again offers cash prizes, and the opportunity to become part of their annual recipe book promoting pork products throughout that year.

At the Baltimore and national events, I have my wine company partners pouring their wines, making their competitions a complete food and wine event for invited guests. There are many activities that happen pre-event, making it a valuable experience for the traveling principals of the wine companies. In the above image to the far left is Heath Hoffman of Cellars 12, our Diaz Communications consulting winemaker. In the center of the image is Susan Foppiano-Valera of Foppiano Vineyards, who – each year – is part of a food and wine pairing.

Both Heath and Susan, as well as John Monnich of Silkwood Wines (above on the far right), are all tasting the dishes to determine which one best suits their wine. John Monnich is also becoming a regular panel judge for the food and wine pairings. Each of these vintners understands the innovative way to bring their wines to the forefront with these up-and-coming chefs, many of whom will be owning their own restaurants and making their own wine buying decisions. Also, many of them also continue on to become nationally recognized chefs, such as Tracy O’Grady, who owns five star Kinkead on 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

I’ve always enjoyed being a fly on the wall in the kitchen as the chefs prepare for the judging. Okay, bad pun, but without this bird’s eye view, I couldn’t be telling you this story from a first-hand experience.

The intensity of the chefs in the kitchen is something I’ve always enjoyed watching. They work so hard, and in such harmony within their teams, and bring forth not only delicious dishes, but they also understand the importance of presentation as they’re marketing what they’re about to present to the food and the food & wine judges.

During the evening Taste of Elegance, invited guests enjoy the bounty of the day’s labors. At the end of the evening, the results of the judges are announced, with all of the awards going home with the chefs and their teams. Pictured above is my long-time friend and colleague Larry Cizek of the National Pork Board, with whom I first began working in 1998. We have lots of history and understanding of how the program works. Larry’s presenting the First place award to Andrew Little and his team from Sheppard Mansion of Hanover, Pennsylvania, who prepared “Pork and Sauerkraut.”

In the above image, the National Pork Board host and marketing manager of the Mid-Atlantic Taste of Elegance, Howard Greenblatt is presenting the People’s Choice Award winner, to Bill Crouse. Bill and his sous chef are from Sotto Sopra Cucina in Baltimore, Maryland, and they prepared Barolo Braised Pork Shoulder with House Cured Bacon on White Corn Polenta.

The following slide show is some of the participating wine brands that were pouring, and a group shot of the participating chefs who were competing, as captured by the event’s photographer. (Foppiano are Parducci were also pouring, but not captured during this part of the event; however, I still want to mention that they were present with their wines to pour.)