As promised, I had time to recover my brain, liver and stomach to further talk about the event known as Cochon 555. A massive pig cooking competition. 5 chefs, 5 heritage pigs, wine, whiskey and beer!!
Well this year was a little different than last year. It was a smaller venue and over two floors, so the flow wasn’t quite there. Last year the event took place at St. Vibiana’s downtown LA. An old cathedral that has undergone an amazing transformation. I have done the VIP ticket each year, to get extra time to taste food and drink, and to talk with other food-centric folk. It took place outside in a courtyard that featured different wineries, and food purveyors. Lindy and Grundy did a pig break down demonstration. And there were mason jars filled with bacon all over. It was a lovely start to the evening.
On Sunday, it was a little more disorganized, and the doors opened a little late. It was at The House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard, which is a great venue, just not for a cooking competition. After the fun and festivities of last year’s event, a few friends joined me this year. Well, upon entering it got a little congested at the entrance, on the second floor around the back by the House of Blues ticket office. The main cooking and drinking was taking place downstairs. There were the fantastic oysters and cheeses upstairs. But it was crowded, although it thinned out as everyone started getting in. We got to listen in and watch as each Chef explained his dish to the “Pro” judges such as Johnathon Gold, Krista Simmons, Ocatvio Becerra who competed last year, and just closed his restaurant Palate, and Jose Andres head chef of Bazaar, Joshua Whigham. No food slouches. What we did not know was that after each chef plated for the judges the food they were passing out was THE food! Stuff we were to judge on as well. We thought they were just small bites for the Pre-Show. Well these were the items of the day. Unfortunately we tasted Ben Ford and Micah Wexler without even really thinking about it too much. Just a little miscommunication.
At this point, the early crowd thinned out, and it was much more bearable. People mingled upstairs and downstairs. It was still a little disorganized at points, but we dealt with it. Clearly, the venue had some challenges that they were not quite prepared for. Now I had to go from memory to write up story because I ended up spilling a little wine on my notes. Ya, go figure. So I’ll start with the wineries that were pouring:
There were five family wineries that were the main pourers of the event. Turley, Matthiasson, Scholium Project, K Vintners, and Buty. Also pouring were SALDO, Sokol Blosser, Simi and Elk Cove Vineyards. Now I have had some of these before, and actually have two favorites that I hit frequently. SALDO and Turley. Both had a Zinfandel that was showing quite well. I’ve bought both of these at times as well for enjoyment at home. SALDO is winemaker Dave Phinney’s new label. You might recognize his name from his other winery, Orin Swift Cellars. Who also make terrific wines. But the SALDO Zin is really, really nice. It is a blend of the finest zinfandel that he sources out of different counties. And getting the best of the best, makes for a very smooth, round wine that is quite drinkable. The acid levels are not that high, nor the tannins. I really like this wine. And the second is Turley. They make a terrific old-vine Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. These are both very nice wines as well, and very drinkable with good showings. We all also enjoyed Matthiasson and Scholium Project as well. After awhile though, keeping them all straight was a task.
Now besides wine, there was beer by Anchor Brewing, Tequila from Chinaco. But Tequila is not a good mix for wine and swine. And as much as I love Anchor, it’s a bit filling. This boy is filling up beyond his means on the aforementioned Wine and Swine!! But, for me, what goes perfect with pork products, and which I imbibe in when I’m manning the grill is Bourbon. Good, honest, clean Bourbon. They had a “Perfect Manhattan” station set up at one of the lower bars. At first I was skeptical, being they said it was only bourbon and cherries. Really? I thought. The three being poured were Angel’s Envy, Hudson Whiskey’s Baby Bourbon and Templeton Rye. Basically this version of the Manhattan was a mason jar filled with ice, a couple fingers worth of whiskey and Luxardo cherries. And it did not disappoint. These aren’t your daddies maraschino cherries. These are tasty and not overpowering. It made for a great, crisp, palate cleaning beverage. We put a couple two-three of these babies away.
Now, on to the food. Again, since my notes got messed up, stupid wine glass, I am doing this mostly from my pictures and memory. A memory that some might say, is not what it used to be. But here we are. And some dishes were unforgettable. Truly unforgettable. To start I will recollect Mr. Ben Ford of Ford’s Filling Station. He was matched with an Old Spot Pig from Heritage Foods USA. This particular pig is known for it’s “distinctive layer of back fat and amazing flavor”. We actually were hanging by Ben’s station for a bit, before realizing these were his main dishes, as I said earlier. Well he did have two outstanding dishes that were packed with pork-tastic flavors. A chili verde taco and a head cheese hero. Now I’m a huge taco and hero fan. These were small, bites, but tremendous no less. And if you don’t know what head cheese, you might want to try it before eating it. They were both very good. And it was cute to see his wife and son helping to get stuff plated. They also had toy pig noses to wear. His dishes were obvious good enough to sway the judges.
Next up we had some of Micah Wexler’s creations. He is from Mezze Restaurant, and was cooking a Berkshire Pig from Jubilee Farm. This is the most popular of Heritage Breeds, and the meat can be more sweet and creamy, with hints of nuttiness. He made the most delightful Pork Belly Shawarma that was an excellent quick bite. There was also a Quatro Leches Cake that was so light and airy with the most subtle hint of pork from the lard and bacon bite on top. He also had a very nice Charcuterie collection. Tasty stuff indeed.
Then there was Jason Neroni, a relative newbie in the LA scene, and is in the midst of opening his restaurant Superba Snack Bar presently. He was using a Large Black pig, from Heritage Foods USA. This lovely animal’s meat is exceptional, and extra tender. They are known for their short muscle fibers which translate to tender, moist cuts of meat. And I can not lie, I voted for my favorite bite here. Unfortunately I messed up my pictures of their tastiness, so you are going to have to trust me. He did some very different and really, really tasty items. The winner and favorite of mine was this Pho broth with noodles and a poached quail egg in it, with small pieces of pork belly. I mean, oh my god, was tremendous. And it was totally unlike anything I’d had the past two years. The small cup was packed with so many flavors, I was in love. He also did a pasta dish in a Chinese take-out container that also was packed with crazy good flavors. Both very different, and both tremendously flavorful.
Next up is Neal Fraser from The Strand House. You might remember seeing him on Food Network, but he’s got the cooking pedigree and skills. And did not disappoint. He got one of the larger setups down on the floor and made very good use. He had various charcuterie meats out, which like I said before, I love. Next year I might bring a back pack with ice packs and baggies to take “samples” from all the tables for amazing hoagie sandwiches later. Anyways, everything here was tremendous and tasty. I was in love with the hot dog he made and smothered in tasty messy goodness. And a simple open face finger sandwich, Tonnato, which had a slow cooked pork leg part on it. YUMMY!!
Then on to last year’s defending champion, Chad Colby of Mozza. He of course did not disappoint, again. With many, many plates of tremendously delightful food, he was my second favorite. But I might of been swayed by his desserts. Of which, there were many, and they rocked. I mean, pardon the expression, but they were Fucking Amazing!! One of my all time favorite desserts in the world is Pizzeria Mozza Butterscotch Budino. Well he made one, but with a bit of bourbon. Amazing. Truly amazing. It wasn’t officially a pig item, but so so good. There was also a chocolate truffle pop that did not such in the slightest. Nope. Anyways, he did some terrific sliced meats. Again, I could of made a hoagie out of any of these and been super happy. But the most amazing was the Belly Beans. Pork Belly and Beans that slow cooked together. Probably my favorite dish outside of Jason’s. The flavors blended together like butter. Matched with his Trotter Biscuits, it was heaven.
Then as the first round of food was digesting, the lovely ladies of Lindy&Grundy gave a demonstration of breaking down a whole pig. A Kune Kune from Olde Reminisce Farm.
When they finished the demonstration the parts and pieces were all raffled off. Some people got a nice “parting gift” to take home and cook up to keep the Pig theme going. These ladies know their way around the pig. It is great to watch if you’ve never seen it before.
This was followed by Head Chef of The House of Blues doing some BBQ of his own. This I could not even attempt to try to eat. I was stuffed. Beyond stuffed. In a good way. But it looked and smelled terrific. Then we were treated to a Champagne toast to the 25th Anniversary of The James Beard Foundation, sponsored by Laurent-Perrier Champagne.
Then just in case you still haven’t had enough yet, there was chocolate squares from Xocolatl de David and cold-brew from Safari Cup Coffee. The Chocolates were stellar, flavored with egg, ham or Iberico. WOW!! I stuffed a few of each of these in my face. Over and over. Sorry, I’m a chocoholic. I can’t help it. The cold brew was pretty phenomenal as well.
And then if things weren’t good enough, a young lady came around passing out cheese and butter for the road. Just in case you are jonesing in the cab and can’t wait to get home!!!!
Wait till next year Brady Lowe warned us! As next year in LA it will be 5-5, May 5th. A convergence of 5’s. So keep your eye out for next year’s contest/food extravaganza!! It will not disappoint!!