In late September, 10 chefs from the US and Canada and their teams converged on Chicago to compete in a culinary competition spotlighting independent family farmers raising heritage breed pigs. Sept. 30, the date of the event also marked the 10th anniversary of Cochon 555’s first whole-pig competition in Atlanta. Since 2008, the tour has hosted more than 460 events in 28 cities, engaged over 15,000 chef participants and contestants, worked with 560 hog farmers, applauded 93 regional winners and crowned nine national champions.
At the event, Chef Karyn Tomlinson of Corner Table in Minneapolis, was crowned Cochon 555’s first-ever “Queen of Pork.” She received top accolades for using a Duroc breed of pig raised by Hidden Stream Farms, Elgin, Minnesota. The winning menu included three dishes: Holiday Spare Rib with allspice, apricot and black poplar conserva, Swedish Meatball with blood pudding, blood sauce and pickled lingonberry, and to close, Lard and Apple Pie with larded-crust, Minnesota apples, liver ice cream and pancetta caramel.
In all, more than 30 dishes were served to a sold-out crowd of 860 pork-loving epicureans and 30 celebrity judges who voted on the best menu. All the competing teams prepared show-stopping dishes using whole heritage breed pigs. Representing an array of cultures, cities and cooking styles, the 2018 competing chef teams included: Ginger Pierce and Preston Madson of Jams by Jonathan Waxman, New York City; David Uygur of Lucia, Dallas; Brian Redzikowski of Kettner Exchange (an SDCM restaurant), San Diego; Cory Morris of Boleo, Chicago; Mitch Mayers of Sawyer, Seattle; jW Foster of Fairmont Hotel and Resorts, Banff, Alberta, Canada; Gabriel Erales of Dai Due Taqueria, Austin, Texas; Jose Mendin of Habitat, Miami; and Kyle Foster of Julep, Denver.
“Cochon 555 is a competition that has a significant impact on the way I cook, source food and approach menu planning, so I am happy to share the thought that goes into planning a menu for the competition,” said Cory Morris, chef de cuisine, Boleo, Chicago. “My opening dish was called Escabechado. This preparation of boar is Mediterranean in origin, but it’s used as a preservation technique is common throughout Latin America. The loins and tenderloins are cooked sous vide to 120°F in lard and anchovy vinegar. I mixed the boar with fire-roasted peppers and topped the dish with a smoked boar fat aioli and crispy plantain.
“For my second course I cooked an Afro-Peruvian dish called Tacu-Tacu. This dish utilized the best parts of the boar that are often overlooked because they are harder to cook,” he said. “I used the shanks, jowls, neck and shoulder in a seared cake that was bound together with rice and beans. I complimented the cake with a rich aji-panca boar jus and finished it with puffed rice and salsa criolla.”
To end the meal, Chef Morris paid respect to one of his favorite South American countries, which is Argentina.
“Argentina is known for many things, but my favorites are heladorias, Malbec wine, dulce de leche and wood-fired cooking,” he said. “For this dish – helado – I cold smoked cream over cherry wood and turned it into a luscious smoked vanilla bean ice cream. It had a boar belly dulce de leche, a crunchy chocolate/coffee/boar fat crumble and it was topped with a rioja-infused cherry pig face and dehydrated cherry.”
“It’s always an honor to see how much support, love, passion and energy was in the room to support family farmers,” said Brady Lowe, founder of Cochon 555. “The goal of the first 10 years was spotlighting thousands of hard-working chefs and farmers who are responsible for leading the new culinary landscape. As one of this country’s premiere events, our goal for the next 10 years is to support the growth of projects that develop interest in young farmers. We’re proud that Chicago served as the host city to the largest Grand Cochon in history. A big thank you to all the guests including friends, family and partners that have taken Cochon 555 from a culinary event into a movement. This is eating and drinking for a cause.”
The event raised $6,000 for Piggy Bank, a start-up farm in Missouri that serves as a kick-starter for new family farms and a safety net for those in the wake of a disaster (flood, fire and disease).