Monday, April 19, 2010
Cochon 555 atlanta
( photos by Thomas James Photography)
I hummed Pink Floyd all afternoon.
I had the privilege of attending Cochon 555 in Atlanta this weekend and I am still dreaming of the flavors created by the invited chefs and wineries. Cochon 555 is the brainchild of event planners Brady Lowe and Carolina Uribe. This coast to coast 10 city tour invites 5 chefs who are supporters of local food and who support the heritage breed. Pigs are locally sourced from sustainable heritage breeds. Need to brush up on what "heritage breed pig" means? Click here for a great article describing heritage breeds as a rough equivalent to organic. Brady hopes this tour's purpose will be "building new relationships between chef and farmers." Along with the 5 chefs and 5 pigs are five wineries that are family owned.
I arrived at the swanky W hotel in Buckhead at 3:30 for the VIP "meat and greet" held on the 16th floor pool area. First stop, a 2006 Evenstad Reserve from Domaine Serene. This Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was smooth and round with notes of spice, berries/cherries and cedar had a long finish and was perfect with pork. BLT Steak had a beautiful offering of super fresh bluepoint and greenpoint oysters that tasted of the sea. Next was a stunning array of cheeses and accompaniments, notably Emily G's jams. The light shown most brightly on a mason jar filled with perfect slices of Benton's bacon. My first pork of the event and it was perfect!
After a chat with the affable Mr. Lowe I ventured out into the sun to see the butchering demonstration. We watched the talented knife skills of chef Craig Deihl of Cypress break down an entire guinea hog for charcuterie. I had a few more oysters, another glass of Domaine Serene and another slice of lamb salumi before we headed down to the 4th flour for the competition.
The lowdown on Cochon 555:
5 of the best regional chefs, each with a 125 heritage breed pig
5 family wineries join to showcase their wine
foodies, food critic, fellow chefs and bloggers indulge
guests and 20 professional judges determine the winner based on presentation, utilization and best flavor
I rode the elevator with a writer, photographer and cheese trays. We were all having such a fun experience and we had not yet entered the competition. On our way, I was thrilled to run into Taste network's Carolina Uribe and talk a little about the event and its vision. The 4th floor space was industrial-spacious with open ceilings, cement floors, sunlight streaming in from three sides. I reached for a glass for wine tasting and delighted in seeing tiny piglets in each one. It's the simple things.
I chose a 2006 Columbia Rediviva of the Stones from Buty Winery from the Walla Walla Valley. This cabernet syrah blend, much to my liking, was dominated by syrah. It was earthy and like the description, sensuous. I tended to go back to this spot throughout the evening. I began my quest for pork, where some chefs offered one choice and others offered 13.
Kelly English (“2009 Best New Chef” by Food & Wine Magazine) of Restaurant Iris in Memphis smoked a Gloucestershire Old Spots breed from Freckle Face Farm in AR for 24 hours and created 700 banh mi tamales. What a fantastic start. The tamale, topped with coleslaw and pork cracklins was spicy, smoky and a mix of Asian and Mexican flavors.
I made my way over to Mike Lata of FIG restaurant in Charleston. His food is ridiculously delicious, sustainable, locally acquired and seasonal. I'll admit I have created a weekend vacation around reservations on more than one occasion. He's also a really cool guy. Lata presented 10 cohesive offerings from his Tamworth breed from Keegan-Filion Farm in SC. Nestled among the sunflowers were the following dishes: Banh mi pickled ramps, headcheese and liver pate; corn hogs with rhubarb ketchup (presented in lovely paper cones), boudin blnc chow chow, pork skin "ala parmegianno" polenta, bbq ribs with coleslaw, pork belly with watermelon pickles, crispy trotters gribiche, lard crackers (pig shaped even!) with pimento cheese, porchetta tonnato and bourbon lard caramels. You could really see and taste the amount of effort and creativity that went into this oblation of pork. My favorite was the crispy pork trotter and I could have eaten 10. Lata said that he expected this to be the next trend in food. His diners love them. I visited Lata's space many times for another pimento cheese and another bourbon lard caramel. Praise the lard, those were delicious.
Next to Lata's area was the Hirsch Vineyards tasting. The lovely Jasmine Hirsch poured me a glass of Bohan Dillon “Family Blend” Pinot Noir. This smoky, tobacco tasting wine really brought out the flavors in my next couple of dishes.
Todd Mussman of Muss and Turner's serves food that is always fresh and local. I like his restaurant because I can go in jeans and flip flops and have amazing seasonal food and an incredible wine without any fuss. Todd had a Yorkshire hog from Gumcreek Farms in GA. You could smell the smoky pork from a distance and that is what drew me over to him. Todd handed me his "entire pig in a bowl" which was smoked roasted porchetta over smoked pork consomme with bitter herb salad and ham jerky. It was delicious, smoky, satisfying.
We headed back towards Hirsch Vineyards for the wine and also so my companion could talk with Jasmine again. I stopped at the Anne Amie Vinyards table for another pinot. Boyd Pearson poured me a glass of the 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. It was dense, heady, mushroomy, herby and complimented the smoky meat perfectly. I would quickly be back for another glass.
My next stop was with last year's prince of porc Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun's and Rathbun Steak. He looks amazing by the way. Kevin had a Berkshire hog from Riverview Farms in GA. My first bite/slurp was a steamed pork dumpling in 5 spice consomme. Meh. It was good, but simple compared to dishes I have eaten at Rathbun's. I then took a bite of the pork belly flan. Others around me were a little hesitant, saying that they do not like the consistency of flan and can't imagine it with meat. When I say this was mouth-watering goodness, it is an understatement. My palate was awakened by a combination of flavors it had never experienced. Like a fine wine, I rolled the flan around on my tongue. It was smooth, smoky, with notes of cherry, chocolate and had a nuttiness i later found to be candied cashews. This was my favorite dish of the event. Hands down.
Meanwhile, Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats San Francisco held everyone's amazement as he broke down an entire hog neatly. I couldn't help but hum Weird Al Yankovich's "Like a surgeon."
Moving over to Sean Brock's station, I was in awe. Artfully settled before me on straw were 13 treats. Sean comes from McCrady's restaurant in Charleston, a favorite of mine not just because they are ecologically sensitive (check out their recycling, local and sustainable, but because Sean's food is delectable. Sean chose an Ossabaw/berkshire cross from Ecofriendly Foods in VA. and turned out such creative dishes that they were disappearing as they were laid out. I stood next to chef Kevin Gillespie and wanted to chat with him more, but really wanted to lay my hands on Sean's bites. First off, I had the pork fried funnel cake with pork lard sugar. Have I said "praise the lard" already? Well, can I get an amen? Next, a "noodle" bowl where the noodles were made from pork skin cut very thin. The johnny cakes topped with braised bacon, a quail egg and whipped sorghum were a hot ticket. I heard from a judge or two that liked this the best.
He had pickled red hot sausage, an incredible coppa pastrami with secret sauce, bibb letttuce and pumpernickel, a creamy pork liver over soup, chicharrones even. I loved the pastrami, but my favorite was actually the garden radishes with braised fatback wrapped on a stick. It was farm to table and to my mouth.
To say that I was satiated at this point would be an understatement, but wait, there's more. Guest chef Nick Melvin of Parish rolled through the crowd with an entire roasted pig that had been injected with 12 pounds of hamhock butter. Sandwich bread and sauce was provided and as he began chopping the crowd dug in. Parish is a staple for me and I inched closer for a bite. Much to my delight, Nick picked up "the best part," dipped it in sauce and hand fed it to me. Incredibly good.
The event came to a close with a presentation of gifts and bourbon to the 5 chefs. Guests were treated to Benton's bacon brittle with chocolate covered chicharrones. I think I will dream of this sweet and savory concoction for quite a while. We waited anxiously for the prince of porc announcement and the winner was...Sean Brock. Sean gave a touching thank-you speech and held his trophy high. His prince status enables him to compete in the Aspen Food and Wine Classic on June 2oth where someone will be crowned King or Queen of Porc.
On to the afterparty.....
Cochon 555 Upcoming dates:
4/24 Des Moines IA
5/2 Washington DC
6/6 San Francisco
6/6 Aspen Food and Wine Classic