Cochon 555's formula for success is simple: 5 chefs + 5 pigs + 5 wineries = porcine bliss. The event -- part culinary competition, part pork orgy -- was founded by Brady Lowe three years ago to help family farms responsibly raising heritage breed pigs sustain and expand their businesses while educating communities nationwide about the tasty payoff of supporting these farmers.
As Cochon 555 winds down its 10-city tour, I had a chance to catch the latest porktastic affair in New Orleans, where five local chefs prepared a nose-to-tail menu created from their heritage breed pig of choice.
This year's James Beard Best Chef of the South, Stephen Stryjewski, was a strong contender. I had lunch earlier that day at Stryjewski's Cochon Butcher, and if that divine BBQ Pork Sandwich was any indicator of what was in store, we were in for a treat.
Cochon's smorgasbord of swine was large and plentiful. Among the dozen or so offerings was Smoked Boudin of course, one of Stryjewski's specialties. Other favorites included Open Faced Face, with farmer's cheese and white beans, Liver Cheese and Pepper Jelly on toast, Pork Rinds with Sorghum Molasses drizzled on top, and the tastiest use of pig's blood I have ever encountered, Chocolate and Chicory Blood Pudding.
Representing the Besh Restaurant Group, Erick Loos blew us away with his creativity. He presented a mini four-course meal, showcasing a spectrum of techniques and thorough use of the animal. First up was the Pork Liver Parfait (a cool and savory concoction of liver and blood mousse, whipped lard, house-preserved peaches, and muscadine wine gelée). Admittedly, it was a little disorientating for my taste. Next came the Head to Toe Salad, composed of a terrine of the pig's head, tongue, skin, heart, tail, shanks, and trotters, topped with heirloom tomatoes and sugar cane vinaigrette. For our main, we had Slow Cooked Leg, Shoulder, and Loin served with porcini mushrooms over panisse, a chickpea fritter traditionally from the South of France. The real stunner, however, was dessert. The Porked Alaska, bacon pecan crunch ice cream and amaretto cream melting softly inside a crispy meringue, was my favorite bite of the entire evening.
Our third hometown chef, Adolfo Garcia, put his signature Spanish and Latin American flavors into his snout-to-toe creations. Favorites included fried Coppa di Testa balls, made with rich head cheese, and a spicy, tangy Empanada garnished with pickled onions.
Born and raised in New Orleans, and a recent contestant on Top Chef Masters, John Currence brought the party with his Sangrita Javelina, a shooter of tomato juice, bacon infused tequila, and bacon bits, with a rim dusted with powdered country ham and brown sugar. Also delightful were his mini cones of Pork Liver Mousseline topped with vinegar powdered chicharrones.
Mike Lata traveled the furthest for this swine-off, but that didn't prevent him from bringing his A-game. Favorite bites were his Crostini of Liver Mousse and a single square inch bit of perfectly fried Pork Belly.
If the cornucopia of pork from these fine chefs wasn't enough to sate you, there was also massive cheese spread from St. James Cheese Company, a literal boatload of oysters, Black River Caviar, a feast of whole roasted Porcelet de Lait (young, milk-fed pig) courtesy of Naomi Pomeroy (Beast PDX) and D'Artagnan, and piles of succulent crawfish. For dessert, there were passed platters of 4505 Meats' legendary salty, sweet, chili-dusted chicharrones served fondue-style with a bowl of melted dark chocolate for your dipping pleasure. Yes, you heard right: Chocolate Dipped Chicharrones.
St. James Cheese Company, Oysters and Caviar, and Spoils of the Butcher Competition
As my blood began to turn to lardo, the only logical solution was to thin it out with a taste from the 5 wineries of the evening: Matthiasson (California), Elk Cove Vineyards (Oregon), The Scholium Project (California), McCrea Cellars (Washington), and Chase Cellars (California).
The night ended with the crowning of The Prince of Porc. By decree of the pork-loving populus, Erick Loos took home the win with the help of the Mangalitsa wooly pig he raised at La Provence's biodynamic farm.
Cochon 555 will be coming to San Francisco on 6/5, the last of this year's 10-city tour before the whole shebang culminates at the Grand Cochon, where all ten previous winners will face off at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen on 6/19.