Chef Chip Kennedy

Chef Chip Kennedy serves producers at the Illinois Pork Expo Feb. 4. He uses light seasoning to bring out the flavor in his center-cut bone-in pork loin.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — For most people, it would be intimidating to prepare pork for pork producers, especially for hundreds of pig farmers and their guests from the Illinois legislature in the state’s capital city.

But Chip Kennedy considers it a privilege.

“When you are asked to cook for people who are the connoisseurs, it is really an honor,” he said. “It’s really important to go beyond the standard. It’s not typical banquet fare in the way it is prepared and presented.”

Kennedy was not nervous as he prepared dinner for about 600 people at the Illinois Pork Producers Association dinner with legislators at the Pork Expo here Feb. 4. After all, it was the fifth year in a row he had been chosen for the honor.

“They love the menu so much, we haven’t changed it,” said Kennedy of the food he and his 5 Flavors Catering team prepare.

“We love his creativity. It’s more than just the pork,” said Jennifer Tirey, IPPA executive director. “He knows how to prepare our product for a good eating experience.”

Kennedy said he is “hyper sensitive to proper cooking techniques” for the pork. He uses light seasoning to bring out the flavor in his center-cut bone-in pork loin.

Kennedy’s meal took center stage with a buffet line set up beside the trade show, surrounded by white linen-clothed tables where pork producers, exhibitors and legislators mingled.

“Food is our passion, and party planning is our forte,” said Kennedy, who caters for weddings, corporate events and intimate dinner parties.

“Chef Chip” is well known in the Springfield area for 5 Flavors Catering, which he started in 2009 upon returning to his home area in central Illinois after earning his culinary degree from Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona and working in other parts of the country.

“I always cooked in high school for my parents and friends,” he said. It was his dad who suggested culinary school.

With a $25,000 loan and his “old, beat-up Jeep as collateral,” he started 5 Flavors Catering.

“The name is a spin on the five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, savory and umami,” the chef explains.   

With that entrepreneurial spirit, he now has multiple locations with unique offerings in the Springfield area.

“It has blossomed into a whole bunch of things,” said Kennedy, who won the Springfield Bacon Fest and the Springfield Iron Chef gala within the last two years.

Today he manages the food service for Horace Mann Companies in Springfield, is the sole caterer for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, owns Finley’s Tap House with a business partner and runs a catering business called Secret Recipes Catering that he bought in 2014.

His next new venture, with friend and chef Dave Matthews, is The Black Ox Steak House, which will open on State Street in downtown Springfield this spring.

Although he has prepared meals for as many as 2,600 at a single event, he has no problem in making smaller potions or creating family-size recipes.

He also doesn’t keep all his recipes secret. Here he shares some related to his menu at the Illinois Pork Expo buffet.

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.