Pig Out in a City Near You
By Deborah Loeb Bohren
“Pig out” takes on a whole new meaning at Cochon555’s nationwide pork-fueled gastronomy competition. In this culinary smack down extraordinaire, five local chefs in each of 14 cities go whole hog (literally) to create, cook and present six innovative, boldly flavorful, oftentimes decadent and sometimes surprising, dishes using a heritage pig from nose to tail.
Started in 2008 to support small, independent farmers and protect endangered heritage pigs, this year’s tour kicked off in Brooklyn at the end of January and will culminate in October with the Grand Cochon in Chicago, where the winners of the local competitions face off for the penultimate title of King, or Queen, of Porc. Along the way pork loving gourmands can enjoy a little piece of hog heaven in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, San Francisco, Seattle, and one wildcard city, still shrouded in secrecy.
To start things off, each chef receives a heritage pig one week before the competition. Then comes the planning, butchering and prepping. Chef Nicole Gajadhar of Saxon + Parole received a rare Large Black and, at 211 pounds, it was about five times the size of the pigs she normally cooks. Calling on her culinary muses and all her skills to highlight the particular characteristics of the Large Black, she set out to create dishes that were uniquely hers. But her work didn’t end there: she had a menu to design and a decision about which of her personal 100+ piggy banks — the brass one from Ireland or the one made from a coconut? — would grace her Judges table.
For Chef Nicole, her planning, talent and hard work paid off. With dishes including, “Bloody Sunday” a soup of blood noodles, salt-cured & smoked loin, coconut broth and crispy head), “L.E.S. Egg Roll” made with pork shoulder pastrami, black garlic, ginger cabbage, cilantro and a tamarind sauce; “Into the Woods & Out to Sea” bringing together smoked-brined butt, mushroom and truffle whipped lardo, uni and smoked trout roe in a single bite; and “Belly Full of Goodness”, a delectable combination of belly and liver mousse, Fuji apple bourbon jelly, smoked pignolia and a black ‘piggie’ pretzel, she was crowned the NYC 2017 Princess of Pork, and now goes on to the finals in Chicago.
Foodies across the country can participate in Cochon555, indulging in an afternoon of ingenious pork cookery and, along with the judges, vote for the best bites. To add to the communal feasting, wine selected by top sommeliers, inventive cocktails concocted by the Punch Kings flow freely; complimentary bites of foie gras, a gourmet butter bar and farmhouse cheeses abound; hip hop and rap legends keep the beat; and there’s even a bit of theater compliments of a pop-up butcher shop where attendees watch a pig butchered in real time to raise money for a cause. If a blood macaron with chocolate-caramel jowl ganache atop pork dusted cotton candy, a pork tail knish or pork-based nigiri with uni, apple and horseradish pique your curiosity and have your tastebuds salivating, this is an event not to be missed.