Symphony for the palate
Pedersen named finalist for Taste of Elegance
By Jane Myhra
Diane Pedersen, of Iola, is one of eight finalists in the annual Taste of Elegance competition, sponsored by the Wisconsin Pork Association.
As a finalist, Chef Diane will prepare a pork entrée for a panel of judges on Feb. 2, at the Kalahari Resort and Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells.
The following recipe description will appear in the event’s brochure: “The fans will rave when Chef Diane Pedersen presents her Asian Symphony Quartet. As well as being the head chef at a local assisted living, the classically trained musician created a ‘symphony’ your palate will be singing.”
Pedersen described her Asian Symphony Quartet recipe as having four separate dishes: 1) pork steamed dumpling; 2) grilled pork satay with a peanut lime dipping sauce; 3) pork lettuce salad; and 4) pork roulade stuffed with coconut curry rice with lemon herb sauce and blueberry basil glaze.
The Taste of Elegance encourages creative pork menuing and features exquisitely prepared entrées from Wisconsin’s top chefs. At stake in the competition is $2,000 in cash prizes and a trip to the Culinary Institute of America in Greystone, California.
This Taste of Elegance will be a return visit for Pedersen, who also competed in 2016.
“One of the judges told me I was very close to placing last year,” she said. “He encouraged me to try again.”
During the contest, Pedersen will prepare her pork recipe for each of the three judges. Then she must serve 800 to 1,000 samples to the contest attendees, who pick a People’s Choice Award.
“The event is fabulous,” Pedersen said. “You’re head to head with the best chefs in Wisconsin. You get to sample their food, and we all watch each other. It’s very competitive.”
The recipes are judged on taste, appearance and creativity, with the judges selecting a Chef Par Excellence, Superior Chef and Premium Chef.
“There is a lot of pressure because all four dishes need to be perfect,” Pedersen said. “But I think I have a good chance this year.”
Pedersen is a self-taught culinary artist who loves to cook.
“I love to experiment with different ethnic flavors,” she said. “My favorite is Asian.”
For the past 10 years she has been the head cook at Living Oaks, Iola’s assisted living facility. From 1999 to 2006, she owned and operated Olini’s, an Italian restaurant once located just north of Iola.
“It’s an honor for Living Oaks to have our chef chosen for this prestigious contest for the second year in a row,” said Tanya Peotter, housing manager at Living Oaks. “Food is her passion and it shows.”
“The people at Living Oaks sample my recipes, and they are all rooting for me,” Pedersen said. “I love my job.”
Chefs competing against Pedersen are: Nicholas Conley, Double Cut, Wisconsin Dells; Aaron Fidder, Wisconsin Machine Shed, Grand Chute; Nestor Sanchez, Maki Yaki, Milwaukee; Kelsey Schoen, The Black Sheep, Whitewater; Brianna Taylor, Bigfoot Country Club, Fontana; Seth VanderLaan, Miller Park, Milwaukee; and Mitchel Weber, The Restaurant at Charmant Hotel, La Crosse.
In addition to being a chef, Pedersen is a classically trained musician who has played in rock bands for the past 36 years. She is a past member of Relentless, a band based in Stevens Point, and once performed with BB King’s daughter, Claudette, in San Francisco.
She plays various wind instruments and has a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Pedersen also earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology and music therapy from Naropa Institute, in Boulder, Colorado.
She is the daughter of the late Sivert and Alice Pedersen and graduated from Iola-Scandinavia High School in 1980.