Cochon 555, the traveling swine orgy that celebrates heritage-breed hogs, took center stage on Sunday at The Ritz-Carlton Denver, where five local chefs battled it out for the title of "Prince of Porc." Competitors Kelly Whitaker (Basta and Cart-Driver), Rich Byers (The Corner Office), Chris Thompson (The Nickel), John Chad Little (Harman's Eat & Drink) and Matthew Vawter (Mercantile Dining & Provision) were all tasked with preparing up to six dishes using as many parts as possible from a heritage-breed pig. Vawter (holding trophy, above), chosen by guests and a posse of industry judges (myself included), emerged as the winner and will now compete in the Grand Cochon in Aspen on June 21, where he'll go nose-to-tail against Cochon winners from other cities.
The epic pig blowout also showcased a butchery demonstration from Kate Kavanaugh and Josh Curtiss, owners of Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe, a bourbon "Punch King" cocktail showdown, a pop-up barbecue spread from Theo Adley, exec chef of The Squeaky Bean, a cheese bar from Boulder-based Cured and a tartare bar from Old Major exec chef Justin Brunson. Check out all the dishes from the competing chefs as well as other highlights from the pork fest in our slide show below.
Using 15 different parts of his pig, from the bones to the blood, John Chad Little, exec chef of Harman's Eat & Drink, prepared six dishes, including an open-faced porchetta sandwich, a pork-heart tartare "banh mi" and a killer pork-fat donut with blood-chocolate ganache and a bourbon-and-Palisade-cherry filling.
Chris Thompson, kitchen chief of The Nickel, served five courses at Cochon 555: housemade charcuterie, porchetta ramen, pig-heart tartare, a barbecued pork bun and, for dessert, a decadent candied bacon and butterscotch pudding with passion fruit caramel.
The Corner Office, whose kitchen is run by Rich Byers, unleashed six piggy dishes, including a pork-laden bibimbop; cinnamon-apple chicharrónes; a pozole utilizing the pig's head, liver and trotters; caramel with bones and ears; loin and belly skewers; and a tiramisu with pork shoulder and fatback.
Kelly Whitaker, chef of Basta and Cart-Driver, showcased his mastery of the pig (and seafood) by serving six dishes that zigzagged from a West Coast oyster with fennel espuma, prosciutto jus and fines herbes to a mortadella "foie dog" with pear mostarda and, for his offal dish, a smoky vanilla gelato sprinkled with shavings of heart and kidney.
Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe proprietors (and couple) Kate Kavanaugh and Josh Curtiss, along with their dedicated team of butchers, broke down a whole pig for their pop-up butcher shop, selling off all of the cuts and the head (that went for $250) to guests, the profits of which benefit culinary students.
As part of Cochon 555, five Denver mixologists competed in the Punch Kings throwdown, a battle that required the bartenders to concoct libations using Breckenridge bourbon. Punch Bowl Social mixologist Patrick Williams waltzed away with the win.
Squeaky Bean kitchen king Theo Adley, who was given a sixth pig to highlight at Cochon's barbecue pop-up, wowed crowds with his Japanese-themed spread of chirashi, squid-ink-braised yakitori pork matched with Japanese mayo, Japanese Lowcountry ribs paired with wasabi barbecue sauce and a pig head tricked out in gold and wreathed with octopus and pork cracklings.
Mercantile Dining & Provision chef Matt Vawter, this year's Cochon 555 "Prince of Porc," composed a winning plate of six dishes: a barbecued pork belly corn dog with tomato-mustard marmalade; porchetta di testa with scrapple croutons and back fat aïoli; a spectacular foie gras-and-duck confit banh mi with pickled vegetables; a pork-shank potato gnocchi paired with braised kale and hog maws cracklin's in a pork-bone brodo; apricot blood sausage with curried chickpeas; and a Valrhona blood pot de crème with leaf lard chantilly.