Iowa City top chef crowned


There’s a new top dog in Iowa City. Well, a new top chef.

Christian Prochaska, the executive chef of Bread Garden Market and a first-time competitor, walked away with the top prize in the fourth-annual Top Chef Iowa City competition, as decided by the judges.

“It means a lot to have the support of the community,” Prochaska said. “It’s nice to be recognized by your peers.”

In the hotelVetro ballroom, seven judges wove in and out of patrons to visit 23 chefs and taste each dish, ranging from sushi to grits to vegan coffee cake. With live jazz flowing from the drums, guitar, and towering bass in the corner and dim lights placed throughout, the ballroom was transformed into a swanky nightclub, perfect for all the “foodies” of Iowa City.

“This is a cornucopia of restaurants and bars,” said Paul Diehl, an attendee of the event every year and former head of the UI Nonfiction Writing Program. “When [my wife and I] came to Iowa City 25 years ago, it was a choice between Arby’s and McDonald’s, and now …”

Now there are restaurants competing just to compete in Top Chef. The Iowa City Downtown District received so many applications it had to limit each business to just one category—entrée, dessert, or mixology.

“It’s been an enormous success, and each year, it has grown upon itself,” said Brian Vogel, the head of this year’s event. “This year, it could have been a lot bigger had it not been for building limitations. We had dozens of calls looking for tickets after the sellout point.”

Once in the event, competitors pulled out all the tricks, vying for the top spot.

The Clinton Street Social Club, defending its title in the mixology category, unveiled a new drink: The Old Sin.

“It’s a play on a very classic whiskey sour,” said Social Club mixologist Adam Olesen. “This year we went a little bit more complex; we’re using ingredients you may not typically find behind a bar.”

Olesen and his partners said they also worked more on their technique and presentation. Pouring artistically into classic silver shakers, Olesen and company whipped the shakers above their heads to prepare the drinks before using miniature strainers to get a perfectly smooth cocktail.

While the Social Club went original, others hoped to win with their classic bestsellers.

The New Pioneer Coop submitted its carrot cake, which it sells daily. Keeping the menu classic, the team put plenty of effort into presentation, setting up wooden crates and biodegradable plates made by the blind to give their station a rustic, homey feel. Their atmosphere blended perfectly with the event’s compost bins and wooden utensils.

“The carrot cake really showcases local elements and organic elements as well,” said employee Gretchen Lindenbolt. “It’s a well-rounded item to show what New Pioneer is about.”

Though New Pioneer did not win, Lindenbolt had cause to celebrate at the night’s end; her daughter, Jen Corcoran, was part of the winning team for Molly’s Cupcakes.

Molly’s Cupcakes won both the People’s Choice and the Judge’s Choice for top dessert with Abbie Misfeldt’s key lime pie cupcake, complete with graham cracker crust, fresh lime curd filling, and meringue frosting.

“We wanted something with a lot of texture and a lot of flavor,” said Molly’s Cupcakes owner Jamie Smith. “We think texture is just as important as flavor.”

Going by the ballots, it’s safe to say the public agreed.

The public also came to a consensus, albeit a close one, of their favorite drink: Graze’s grape flower martini. Competing for the fourth year, Graze finally claimed the title of Best Cocktail.

“I just came here to have fun,” said Graze general manager Mark Elliff. “Even if we don’t win, I haven’t seen anyone walk away with a frown on their face, so we win anyway.”