First-of-its-kind Iowa Shrimp Taco shut out of IC Top Chef: Downtown

Shrimp photo by Adam Burke
Shrimp photo by Adam Burke

Local Burrito slinger and taste-maker Kyle Sieck was ousted from competition in the Iowa City Downtown District’s sixth annual Top Chef: Downtown when health inspectors challenged the source of his “Iowa Shrimp.”

His shrimp supplier, Denny Rehberg, who operates out of Walker, Iowa, in Linn County, did not have an aquaculture license. There are currently over 40 aquaculture licenses for growers in Iowa, but none are in Linn or Johnson County.

Sieck (pronounced Seek) says that his kitchen is certified and he stands by what he makes there.

But Johnson County Health Inspector James Lacina said he determined during the inspection that “insufficient evidence was provided to show that fresh shrimp was obtained from an approved source … Vendors are required to provide evidence if requested that foods served come from approved source.”

Sieck said he prepped for days and ended up with $500 of shrimp he couldn’t use. He will likely not return to his Iowa Shrimp Taco, he said, citing the cost and hassle of preparation. “I had a worthy item for competition, and got stopped cold last minute — I just wanted to compete,” Sieck said.

The taco in question contained Rehberg’s Iowa-raised shrimp, James Nisely’s organic sweet potato, Iowa Choice Harvest organic sweet corn slaw and avocado-garlic-lime aioli, wrapped together in an El Norte flour shell.

Rehberg, who has grown shrimp at his Walker, Iowa, farm for over a year, at first said he did not need an aquaculture license. He referred to another shrimp operation, Sherlock Shrimp, in Winnishiek County. There are also no state records for a Winnishiek County aquaculture license.

He’s one of a handful of shrimpers in Iowa. He and Sieck, who runs Local Burrito, are Iowa City Farmers Market neighbors. Rehberg also supplies pork for Local Burrito and they have known each other for nearly a decade.

In a phone interview on Friday morning, Rehberg said he is now planning to get an aquaculture and importation license for his shrimp operation.

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