Talk about ‘pork belly:’ Pork Challenge at Taste of Vail brings heavy competition and delicious eats |

Talk about ‘pork belly:’ Pork Challenge at Taste of Vail brings heavy competition and delicious eats

Competition was 'heavy' at Taste of Vail’s Niman Ranch Iberian Duroc Pork Challenge

Could you eat 16 servings of pork in two hours?

Judging food competitions can be hard — but simultaneously rewarding — work. Joined by a panel of industry professionals, food writers and a hog farmer, Vail Daily publisher Mark Wurzer and your humble narrator took to the judges’ table at this year’s Niman Ranch Iberian Duroc Pork Challenge at Taste of Vail. And the competition was … heavy.

Sean Naylor/Vail Daily

As the panel took its seats at the table, in a private tent set up at the southern end of the International Bridge in Vail, the rules were laid out. A blind-tasting competition, each judge was to be given 16 plates of seasoned swine, prepared masterfully by a litany of local chefs as well as three special guest chefs. Each plate was to be consumed and scored based on presentation, creativity and taste within five minutes. There was no deliberation among the judges, except the occasional “cheers” and clinking of glasses between plates. Light conversation paired well with the rich tastings, as we kept our “wows” to ourselves and put pen to paper.

But even the chatter faded over time, as the enjoyment of each plate started to silence the group more and more, and the overall energy of the panel headed straight into a food coma crash course as the last plates were served. That’s where the hard work came in.

This year’s competitors included Big Bear Bistro, Bistro 14/Eagles Nest, Bits and Pieces (Guest Chef – Denver), Cucina, Elevation Food Services, Grill on the Gore, High School Culinary Team, Youth Power365, ICU (Guest Chef – Festival Gourmet Mexico), Juniper, Leonora, Mountain Standard, MUXA (Guest Chef – Festival Gourmet Mexico), Revel Lounge, Roam, Sonnenalp, The 10th and The Remedy Bar. 

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Sean Naylor/Vail Daily

In the end, Mountain Standard received “Best in Show” while The Remedy won “Best Pork Belly” and Roam was awarded “Best Pork Shoulder.”

The People’s Choice Awards vote was “overwhelming,” according to a press release from event organizers, and those results are still being tabulated as of Friday.

The Taste of Vail is here for one more day, with a schedule of seminars and then the Grand Tasting event taking place at The Hythe from 5-8 p.m. For those who have missed out on most of the Taste of Vail fun, the Grand Tasting is the best way to catch up on all that was enjoyed throughout the event, as well as explore some unveiled treats for the grand finale. For more information, visit

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