Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Celebration of the Pig - Cochon 555

Last night five top chefs from around the country gathered in Memphis to pay tribute to the magical animal that is the reason for my blog's existence. The Cochon 555 tour pairs each chef with a different breed of heritage pig from a different small, sustainable farm. It was a huge honor for Memphis to be recognized for its culinary contribution to pork-based cuisine by being selected as one of this year's ten host cities. Rather than waste much more time with words, I'll mostly let the pictures tell the story of this epic pork feast.

The five chefs each had the kitchen staffs from their restaurants working at a frantic pace to keep the food moving to the roughly 500 people in attendance.

The first stop was chef Kevin Nashan of the Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis who was using a Swabian Hall pig from Rustic Rooster Farms. The pig is a German-created cross between a Russian wild boar and the ultra-fatty Chinese Meishan pig.

 These delectable little pork tacos were the highlight of Nashan's offerings.
Chef Kelly English of Restaurant Iris in Memphis represented his city with a nod to the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team, which has made "heart, grit and grind" a catchphrase for the city with their style of play. He used a Tamworth pig from Old Thyme Farm. The large-bellied breed is known as the "bacon hog."

English ended up winning the event, which means he will progress to the final Grand Cochon contest in Aspen.

Chef Lee Richardson of Ashley's at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, AR, had a sign displaying exactly how his menu divvied up his Old Spot pig from Freckle Face Farm.

 Delicious hog head mortadella. This wasn't an event for vegetarians. 

 The mortadella was served next to little boxes that said "Praise the lard."

 Inside the box was a glorious little chocolate truffle filled with smoked pork lard.

Chef Chris Hastings of the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, AL, used a Mulefoot pig from Sequatchie Cove Farm. This piece of pork belly on sauerkraut was a simple creation but one of the most satisfyingly flavorful things I ate all night.

It isn't a feast without a cheese spread. We stopped to sample some outstanding cheeses and small-batch bourbons before braving the long line for our final tasting station.

Chefs Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen in Memphis used a Berkshire pig from Newman Farm.

It's hard to do it justice with a photograph, but the piece of liverwurst at the bottom of the plate was fantastic. 

Pork lard gelato. Just combing the three words makes my mouth water. I ate it with a spoon and tossed the cone, which wasn't worthy of being paired with such a magnificent creation.

With an event shirt like this, I know it's my kind of party. Oh, and I used my new glucose meter to check my blood sugar an hour after this pork-fueled gluttony and the beer and whiskey that accompanied it. It was only 127. Never underestimate the health benefits of pork lard.

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