Best Thing We Ate
Best Thing We Ate: Pork Everything at Cochon 555By Lesley Balla
February 24, 2014
After judging the Cochon 555 competition in Santa Monica yesterday, we're pretty sure that the "cochon" in the title doesn't only refer to the heritage breed pigs the five local chefs butcher and cook for the event. It might have to do with how porky everyone feels after the gorgefest. Once again, the roving pig party rolled through LA to bring together local chefs, farmers, wine, beer and booze to the hilt. Each chef gets a different breed of pig and creates five to six different dishes utilizing as much of the animal as possible, so that means things like horchata with pork-fat ice cubes, bologna sandwiches on homemade white bread, blood and chocolate bon bons and pickled pig's feet and head meat gelee are the norm. But that didn't stop the chefs from each making a dish with beautiful (and illegal) foie gras, either. Oink.
The trick to judging something like this is to take a bite and move on, no matter how much you want to finish any one thing. Otherwise pain will set in too quickly, rendering the rest of the party useless - and it's too good of a party to waste. This year it moved to a ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel, which seemed unusual but it worked. There was better flow to maneuver around the five chef's stations, each done up in a theme. Some took it to extremes, like Fig chef Ray Garcia, who set up a Tacos Miramar stand, complete with hanging pig skins, a paleta cart and even a lucha libre mask-wearing guy handing out roses to the ladies. But this being Cochon, even the paletas had pig parts in them, as well as apricot, milk and cactus. It was one of the most unexpectedly delicious things we had all night (pictured), and went along well with Garcia's chilaquiles made with blood, head meat, pork belly and other bits; a ceviche-style coctel with liver, heart, skin tomato and avocado; tamales with pork butt and poblano peppers; and mini huaraches topped with chorizo verde. After the judges and diners ballots were counted, while it was close, Garcia took home the Prince of Porc prize for the second year in a row.
The other chefs totally brought their A-game, too. Visiting chef Jason Neve from B&B Ristorante had an amazing array of charucterie and terrines at his table. Ray England from Craft LA made the one thing we had to have seconds of - the bologna and mayo sandwich on house-made white bread - along with a delicious pork fat pudding with banana, coffee and candy cap mushrooms. Short Order's Christian Page wowed with a mini BLT macaron made with pork belly, whipped lardo, tomato jam and frilly mustard greens. And if Brian Howard served the pork Moroccan tagine at Comme Ca, we must just be there tonight for dinner.
Just when we thought we had enough, we turned to find a man slicing beautiful pink slices of prosciutto di Parma, Walter Manzke (Republique) set up a whole tartare station, and Jet Tila was busy carving little piglets for something else. And we long for the day when England can cook his foie gras "scrapple" at his restaurant - even full, we couldn't turn it down.
Garcia will head to the national Cochon 555 competition in Aspen this summer. We wish him well and will now live off of juice for a week.