I don’t think I’ve ever hidden my fondness for pork products from anyone who reads this site. Heck, like most Southern-raised folks, I keep a can of bacon fat in the fridge, just for cooking up those eggs from the farmers’ market on the weekends. So, when the folks at PadillaCRT reached out to me to ask if I’d like to cover this year’s Cochon555 in New York, I jumped at the chance to check it out.
The Judges Table
Cochon555 was created in 2008 to educate and encourage chefs to use heritage breed pigs in their restaurants. It has grown into a 14-city tour for 2017, with chefs in each host city competing to be the Prince or Princess of Pork. That person will then go on to the national level competition to be crowned the Grand Cochon. Chefs are given a heritage breed pig from which to create their menu for the event. Prior to the guests entering the event space, they prepare a tasting plate of six bites that showcase their animal, its versatility, flavor, and the chef’s own creativity. Proceeds from the auctions held at these events go to support Piggy Bank, a non-profit organization that assists family farms who would like to raise heritage breed pigs with genetics as well as sourcing for them.
Piggy Bank – one recipient of proceeds from the event
These pigs have such amazing flavor, a profile that is not what most of us were raised with, if we ate pork growing up at all. My mother used to cook pork chops to death, after they’d been drown in Shake-n-Bake. It wasn’t until I started going to events like this one and others around New York that feature locally-raised, heritage breed animals, that I was able to understand why it is so important to preserve these stocks and to make sure that there is a place for them in the food pathways and on our tables. What I was most looking forward to seeing yesterday was just what the chefs would present to the guests.
How else do you win over the hearts and tastebuds of hungry New Yorkers then with the deli classics? Chef Bartlow created chopped liver on matzoh, ham “lox” and whitefish on a bagel, matzoh ball soup with kreplach, and, my favorite, a melt-in-the-mouth pastrami on rye, featuring the pork shoulder and belly. You could wash it all down with a mini egg cream and end the meal with a black and white cookie or a morcilla rugelach.
The selections from this chef featured some of my favorite charcuterie items. Pâté, not too rustic and not too refined, country ham, rillette, fried rillette. The meat selections were accompanied by peppery greens, a grain and sunflower seed salad, and in the case of the rillette by a mustard aïoli, each as a flavorful balance and foil for the richness of the pork.
I’m not going to lie, the flying pig display caught my eye and won me over, even before I’d tasted any of this chef’s food. Then, I joined the line of folks waiting to sample the offerings, and went back for seconds. The laksa hit all the soothing notes of fragrant lemongrass, cilantro, and coconut notes and then just pushed it out a bit further with slices of smoked loin, blood noodles, and pork crackling garnish. The Lower East Side egg roll riff with pork shoulder pastrami was just what I’d like to have on my next dim sum jaunt. The chicharrones filled with rillettes were delicious but a little challenging balanced on top of a broth laced with mezcal.
What I regret about yesterday evening is that at some point, I saw a tray of biscuits fly by from the folks at Birds & Bubbles, and I did not manage to snag one of them. The thick-cut bacon with mustard sauce made me want to pick up a few more of these bites. The second bite that I had from this chef could be called pork with more pork, as it was a pulled pork with what seemed to be a whipped lardo on top of it.
This savory take on the classic French Opera Cake was gorgeous to see and delicious to taste. It was like consuming concentrated porkiness. Dessert by this chef was also fun with a maple ice cream and shortbread cookies that had used lard in them.
NYC Chefs for Cochon555 2017
After several hours of feeding hungry guests, the chefs took the stage to hear the results of the judging and who would be crowned this year’s Prince or Princess of Pork for NYC. After soaring rounds of applause as each chef’s name was announced, Cochon555 creator Brady Lowe pulled the white card out of the black envelope and revealed that Chef Nicole Gajadhar of Saxon + Parole would collect the trophy and wear this year’s crown for NYC. The crowd went crazy. Her dishes had been some of the favorites of the day, with a long line to try them.
Chef Nicole Gajadhar of Saxon + Parole
Thank you so much to the staff at PadillaCRT for the opportunity to attend and cover this year’s Cochon555 in New York City. For more information on this event as well as the other cities in which it will be held in 2017, please visit the organizer’s website.