What’s better than all-you-can-eat pork from a local chef and all-you-can-drink wine from a regional vineyard? All-you-can-eat pork from five local chefs and all-you-can-drink wine from five regional vinters, of course.
Last Sunday night, the Westin’s beige walls and muted-carpet convention hall hosted one of the wildest events this side of vegetarianism. Cochon 555, now in its third year of touring, brought together five regional farms raising heritage breed pigs, five northwest vinters and five of Seattle’s ascending/award-winning chefs who each received a pig from one of the farms for butchering and plate concocting.
Cochon 555 is the brain child of Brady Lowe who also serves as president/creative director of the Taste Network. The event spawned out of his passion for increased awareness in regard to more natural, sustainable food systems. Also, the setting brings together local chefs with local farms and those farms with other farms in hopes of furthering breed diversity. Pile on a bunch of hungry foodies and it’s “wins” down the line.
I barged into the hall with a plan: clockwise movement from station to station, which would allow for wine pickup while waiting in line for mass amounts of pork. The event was sold out, but other than the comfortable soundtrack (Kid Cudi, Tegan and Sara, Modest Mouse) the hall was silent with everyone stuffing their faces with the offerings. Another oddity began nearly as soon as the doors open — a butchering competition where two men with large forearms began neatly dressing their own halved pig. I knew it was serious when the saw came out.
While they butchered, the rest of us ate. Jason Stratton of Spinasse was my first stop, and his flavors stayed with me through the whole competition. The richness of his pork belly braised with taggiasca olives and prunes had me thinking of Thanksgiving gravy, while his cabbage roll stuffed with shoulder, tongue, potato, and dressed with a light oil left me light and wanting five more.
Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi of Joule/Revel put out the most dishes, providing some of the most interesting combinations while missing on a few others. The head cheese (meat jelly made from the head) had me happy for the experience and the glass of Elk Grove pinot noir in my hand. On the upswing, their blood fudge was phenomenal and easily my favorite item of the event, giving me four seconds of chocolate flavor followed by four seconds of bacon. Truly Interesting.
Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita made me think of my mother. This is a good thing. Her pork shoulder rillette on crustini with huckleberry mostarda prompted thoughts of the dinner table, while her maltagliati (pasta) intertwined with pork sugo (leg and shoulder) and ricotta put me properly back in my seat, reminding me of past stroganoffs.
For Ethan Stowell I waited, and waited some more. While in line, I drank down Scott Paul’s pinot noir, amazed at its ability to wash itself off my palette — easily my favorite glass of the evening. Soon after, a Stowell minion swooped by and offered a crustini with pork belly and pickled apple that had me wanting more, both in substance and flavor. Finally, we reached the bearded Ethan himself who was plating his blood ravioli stuffed with pork and topped with butter pork sauce and ricotta. I wanted it to be so good, but the ravioli was undercooked and the meat dry. More troublesome, the ricotta also sucked whatever moisture was in your mouth out. I know if this was ordered in Tavolata on an individual basis it would be mesmerizing, but being produced on the mass scale the dish couldn’t hold up. Of course, I was won back over with his bacon infused donut holes.
Last up, John Sundstrom of Lark/Licorous — who happens to be last year’s winner. Make that this year’s winner too. Worst of it all, his station was the last I frequented and was only left with pieces of sausage and bacon-bit-topped ice cream, both of which were delicious and left me pondering what I missed. He was gracious in victory and left the gesturing for his help.
The party ended with roast pig to be eaten on wonder bread or tortillas, and the handing out of pork cuts to raffle winners. Each lucky pig-lover walked about proudly with their brick of white butcher paper, now ripe with ideas for the proper meal. Myself — pinot cheeked, pork stuffed and smiling — had only one thought in mind: bed.
For further specifics about Seattle’s stop and future Cochon 555 events, check out cochon555.com. The next stop is March 6 in Napa, so check out Seattletite.com’s thoughts on the valley, and take a road trip already.