Runnells woman’s pork burger recipe a finalist in $15,000 national contest

Mar 13, 2014

Cristen Clark has enjoyed recent success entering food and baked goods contests at the Iowa State Fair and after winning one of the fair’s biggest contests last August, she felt it was time to test her culinary skills on a larger scale.

A stay-at-home mom, casual cook, blogger and softball pitching instructor from Runnells in southeast Polk County, Cristen is competing in the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Recipe Contest on May 17 in St. Helena, Calif. It’s billed as the nation’s longest running and highest paying burger contest and Clark learned in December that out of thousands of entries, she had been selected as one of five finalists in the alternative burger category.

Clark also entered a burger recipe in the $100,000 beef category, but it was her specially created Sour Apple Pork Burger recipe that has earned her the all-expense-paid trip to Napa Valley for the contest. It’s the only recipe in the category that uses fresh pork and she’s hoping to come back a winner. The top prize is $15,000 and Sutter Home also awards a $2,500 People’s Choice prize in each category.

“I’d take this burger recipe up against anything and I hope my Midwest charm can help me bring something home [from the contest], but I feel I’ve already won just becoming a finalist,” Clark said.

The Sour Apple Pork Burger with Cheddar Cheese, Cayenne Apple-Candied Bacon and Potato Chip-Onion Haystacks includes thick-sliced smoked bacon, sour apples, sweet onions, potato chips, apple butter, cheddar cheese, Sutter Home Chenin Blanc wine and fresh ground pork. Each burger recipe must be paired with a Sutter Home wine and Cristen has paired her pork burger with Chenin Blanc.

“My burger doesn’t have any unusual ingredients in it to make it super-culinary or edgy by any means, so I don’t know how it will go over with the celebrity chefs who are judging,” said Clark. “I’m confident though because I’ve got plenty of good things in it.”

Clark grew up on a diversified farm near Prairie City and as a young girl, she showed her relative’s and friend’s hogs from time to time because she loved being around the hogs. The pork burger recipe is a product of her upbringing.

“My inspiration for this burger comes from my favorite dish to eat in the fall: roasted pork with apple compote. It is a meal that celebrates harvest, my favorite time of year. I wanted to turn it into a burger to celebrate my farming roots and the food memories from these times,” Clark said.

The former college softball player says she always tries to use pork in her recipes “so that it helps, in some fractional way, our bottom line. We tend to have [pork] around a lot so it’s something I can practice with and utilize in my kitchen.”

Cooking and baking are her passion and it comes from her mother and grandmother, who was a home economics teacher. It’s those early food memories that have inspired her to hold baking classes in her home and to create a successful blog ( that she started writing in November as a creative outlet for her recipes and to tell stories of her family’s lives in agriculture.

“Food memories are the most important memories to me,” said Cristen. “The Midwest has such a rich food culture and there are recipes and memories just waiting to be relived.”

Cristen and Mike custom finish pigs for an Illinois family in a set of 1,000-head finishing barns they own, and they lease two 1,200-head grow-finish barns to other area producers. In addition to their commercial production, the Clarks are raising show pigs as a hobby project. Mike has worked in the swine industry for 25 years and currently works for Standard Nutrition Co. in Omaha as a nutrition sales representative and swine consultant.

“I’m really excited and there’s a fair amount of nerves associated with all of it, “Clark said. “I’ve never done anything like this before and I’m really looking forward to [the contest].”

Source: Iowa Pork Producers Association