A panel of judges at the National Meat Association's second-ever University Cook-off this week was partial to the University of Idaho's bacon sausage, but a stuffed pork loin created by Texas A&M took the people's choice prize.
"I ate it, and I liked it," says operations manager Jen Kempis-Persons.
Apologizing for having already packed up her conference materials, Kempis-Persons said she didn't know what the Aggies used to stuff their winning "best-tasting meat product," but confirmed civilian judges took their responsibility very seriously.
"It's different when folks get to taste something students put their hearts into, versus something the hotel kitchen puts out," she said.
(Just to be clear, I got the sense Kempis-Persons was speaking metaphorically. I'm pretty sure she didn't mean that the mysterious pork loin stuffing was human.)
When the biennial University Cook-off was launched in 2009, there was only a people's choice award, which Texas Tech claimed with its blueberry sausage patties. The association this year added an expert panel to provide the nine competing student teams with more technical feedback.
"They've been entrenched in the meat industry, so they know good meat when they have it," Kempis-Persons says. "You have to appeal to a group that likes to eat meat."
Products are scored on creativity and quality. While Kempis-Persons says none of the products entered in the last edition of the contest ever made it to market, she would buy Texas A&M's pork loin if it was available at her grocery store.
"Heck, I would definitely buy it and produce an elegant dinner," she says.
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