Bettendorf’s Isle Casino Hotel Chef Wins Pork Competition

Written By Adam Hensley on February 1, 2023
Iowa casino chef wins cooking competition

One chef at an Iowa casino just took home the bacon at the pork challenge.

Nicolas Lopez, who works for the Isle Casino Hotel in Bettendorf, won first place at the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s Taste event. His win kicked off the week of the Iowa Pork Congress in Des Moines.

This year’s taste competition tasked chefs with creating a pork entrée. They had to use a pork blade steak, otherwise known as Boston pork butt. It’s the cut synonymous with making pulled pork, which is taken right above a pig’s shoulder blade.

Lopez’s winning dish was al pastor pork shoulder steak with elote and black bean salad. He garnished his dish with pico de gallo and cilantro lime dressing. According to Lopez, the different garnishes added “spice” and “freshness” to his award-winning dish.

Lopez, who was one of eight chefs competing in Taste, won $1,000. Additionally, Lopez’s victory came with a plaque. Kelly Bunkers of Main + Abbey in Sioux City came in second. Jesus Ojeda with Clive Behavioral Health came in third as well.

According to Kelsey Sutter, an “overwhelming amount” of talent competed in this year’s Iowa Pork Producers Association event.

What to know about the Taste event

Taste is a culinary competition funded by Pork Checkoff. According to a release, the event is designed to “inspire innovative and exciting ways to menu pork in restaurants.”

Taste is a statewide event, not just local to Bettendorf. Each contestant receives a $200 stipend for their dish’s ingredients. IPPA Marketing and Program Director Kelsey Sutter said in a release:

“It’s great to see chefs eager to compete and connect. That interest shows that our competition is still relevant and still fills a need for Iowa chefs to express their creativity, especially when working with our product.”

Isle Iowa casino in Bettendorf ‘plays a big role’ in Quad Cities tourism

The Isle Casino Bettendorf is one of a handful of casinos located in Quad Cities. It’s a Caesars Entertainment property.

In Fiscal Year 2022, the Isle Casino generated roughly $72.4 million in adjusted gross revenue. So far in Fiscal Year 2023, the casino totaled $38.5 million. With six months of the current fiscal year reported, it seems the casino will surpass its FY22 adjusted gross revenue.

The casino itself is a 36,000-square-foot property. It features roughly 1,000 slot machines and plenty of video poker and table games. Given that it’s owned by Caesars, the casino boasts a Caesars Sportsbook retail location. The hotel has more than 500 deluxe rooms and a spacious meeting area. And many restaurants and bars, where guests can enjoy plenty of dishes from Lopez.

Isle Casino Hotel General Manager Nancy Ballenger spoke at a Visit Quad Cities panel back in November. Ballenger said she believes her property plays a major factor in sparking the area’s tourism industry.

“I think it plays a big role,” she told Visit Quad Cities.

“We’re visible on the river and we’ve got the largest hotel in Iowa. That brings in a lot of folks from around the nation and definitely regionally. With the casino and all of our marketing and promotions, we’re able to get about a million people to our property every year.”

Isle Casino Hotel has its sights set on expansion

The Quad Cities wants to solidify itself as a tourist destination, located along the Iowa-Illinois border. Three casinos make up the area:

  1. The Isle
  2. Rhythm City in Davenport
  3. Bally’s in Rock Island, Illinois

To kickstart tourism numbers, Quad Cities aims to boost its entertainment and gambling industry. In theory, more money spent at those three locations could mean more dollars to businesses in the area.

“We definitely want to grow and be more vital to the community and contribute in a bigger way,” Ballenger told Visit Quad Cities. Ballenger believes that connection with Caesars will certainly help her cause.

“As a Caesars Entertainment property now, we’ve got so many assets that are available to us,” she told Visit Quad Cities. “It’s now just getting that into the pipeline and funding those things to be able to continue to enhance the property.”

Photo by Iowa Pork Producers Association
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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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