This Little Piggy--Cochon 555

Cochon is the French word for pig and or the sound a little piglet makes. Cochon 555 is a story of pigs and 5's.  This year marks the fifth anniversary of this traveling culinary circus (although our first to attend) which strives to promote the sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs.  The event was held at the Cedarbrook Lodge which is an urban oasis hidden right by Seatac airport.  It used to be owned by WaMu back in their heyday and used as a corporate conference center.  Now, it is owned by the Wright family (owners of the Space Needle).

The competition pits chefs cooking five different heritage (more on that below) breeds of pigs with the goal to use the entire 200 pound pig snout to tail and everything in between to create their menus.  The Seattle St. Patrick's day stop on the circus tour had bonus action though- a sixth chef was added along with Mark Bodinet from Cedarbrook Lodge's Copperleaf Restaurant who cooked another pig BBQ style for the chefs and their teams after the competition.  The chosen chefs this year were Jason Franey – Canlis, Johnathan Sundstrom – Lark, Jason Barwikowski – Woodsman Tavern, Joshua Henderson – Skillet, Rachel Yang / Seif Chirchi –Joule/Revel, and Shane Ryan – Matts in the Market.

These chefs are given distinct breeds of heritage pigs.  Old Spot from White Buffalo Ranch in Oregon (originating from England is a critically rare breed) was given to Jason Franey of Canlis.  Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi (husband and wife duo from Joule/Revel) where given a Berkshire pig known for it's marbling from Washington based Florek Family Farm.  Shane Ryan of Matt's in the Market also got a Berkshire but from a different farm, Mosaic Farms in Oregon.  Joshua Henderson of Huxley Wallace Collective (better known Skillet fame) drew a beaut, the Farmer's Cross pig known for sweet meat and marbling.  Tails and Trotters farm in Oregon uses local hazelnuts to feed these pigs and increase their flavor.  Jonathan Sundstrum of Lark fame is a two time 555 winner and probably a favorite going into this competition.  He got the beautiful (yes pigs can be beautiful) Hampshire another English breed from Jones Family Farm in Washington.  These pigs have a superior fat to meat ratio.  Last, but not least Jason Barwikowski an Oregon chef, was paired with McKinlay Vineyards in Oregon who provided an extremely rare breed, a Red Wattle pig named for its red color and the fleshy skin under its jowls.  If you want to learn more about these hogs there's a great blog written by Hanna Raskin on the featured swine in this year's event.

Charles Smith: photo via Charles Smith Wines
To wash all that piggy down the pork feast was accompanied with wines from five small family-owned wineries including Elk Cove Vineyards, McCrea Cellars (where we love going to the home of the owners right here in West Seattle and attending the fun events Bob and Susan hold), Syncline, Buty Winery, and K Vintners (made by one of the most fun ex-rocker manager turned wine makers, Charles Smith, it's a shame he wasn't there) plus special tastings from Robert Kacher Selections. 

This year five bourbons in addition to five family wineries and five chefs cooking five pigs was added to the line-up. Tastings of Templeton Rye, Breckenridge Bourbon, High West (a FloJo favorite--because its located in Park City, UT), Buffalo Trace and Four Roses in addition to the perfect manhattan bar showcasing Luxardo cherries.   We thought the mason jar toppers given out at the perfect manhattan bar were a nice touch!

Ro trying some oysters
Also new in 2013, the first annual "Punch Kings” cocktail contest featuring Breckenridge Bourbon and six local bartenders (Adam Fortuna a bartender from Artusi was the NW Punch King).  We tried a Bourbon blackberry concoction from Brave Horse tavern that was very good (see recipe below).  A new Tartare Bar and Hama Hama sustainable oysters were also part of this year's festivities.

Tartare Bar
Twenty official judges and approximately four hundred guests cast their votes at the end of the pork eating frenzy to take home the King of the Swines trophy.  The winner gets to compete with the other regional winners at the finale Grand Cochon event at the FOOD and WINE Classic in Aspen on Sunday, June 16.

Tracy Smaciarz's demo
A couple of additional fun add-ons included a butcher demonstration from Tracy Smaciarz from Heritage Meats with a raffle to benefit the student volunteers from South Seattle Community College culinary program.  The winners of the $15 a ticket raffle got to pick out their packages filled with choice cuts from the demonstration.  We talked to one winner that picked a package filled with pork chops and pork belly.  Now isn't that a great parting gift!  There were also ice-cold brews sponsored by Anchor Brewing out of San Francisco and local Pike Brewing Company, Fernet Branca digestifs, and an impressive cheese bar put out by DeLaurenti Speciality Food and Wine.

We started out trying the offerings at Chef Shane Ryan's station (from Matt's in the Market).  His menu included rice noodles with confit pork belly, smoked Vietnamese sausage, pork broth with headcheese and grilled riblets and fried pork wrapped in betel leaf.  Neither of us had tried betel leaf before, it had a very bitter flavor that we felt overpowered the dish.  It is supposed to stimulate the appetite so it's good that we started with it because we needed a healthy appetite this night.

Rachel Yang aka "Gangster"
The battle of pork Asian flavors went to Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi from Joule and Revel who are in the running for the James Beard 2013 Best Chef Northwest award along with fellow chef Jason Franey of Canlis.  Their menu included Squealing Noodle (pickled pork skin, green curry and prik), Red Hot Soup (pork shoulder, sausage, kimchi), a Kalbi bowl (Korean marinated rib, kimchi and sesame) and one of the best desserts of the night Pig a la mode (chocolate chip cookie made with pig lard and peppercorn ice-cream).  The Asian flavor portfolio was there, but we felt the amount of spice and heat really masked the flavor of the pork in many of these dishes.

Jonathan Sundstrum of Lark, last years winner, served pork belly onigiri with grilled scallion aioli and lard poached pork loin with chorizo and Rockwell bean ragout (which was a fantastic bean soup).  He may have had the people's choice dessert favorite, Chicharone "Nutter Butters" a peanut butter cookie sandwich.

Holy Mole

Posole and  Torta
Jason Barwikowski's team went with a more Mexican vibe and brought some bold flavors. Dishes included: Mole made from pork belly in red chile mole sauce; Tacos made with chorizo, pickled onions and a lard tortilla; Posole with smoked shoulder, hominy, cabbage and relish (that included the pig head and feet); Torta with pork loin al pastor (it looked similar to a slider) topped with pineapple, avocado and refried beans; Churros (chicharones, cinnamon, sugar with chocolate-tequila sauce).

Pork leg gravlaks
Joshua Henderson
Ro's favorite chef of the night was Joshua Henderson of Huxley Wallace Collective who's menu included: Crispy-fried Pig Ears, chicharon and chickpeas with Aleppo chili and fenugreek salt, fresh coriander; NW Oyster Rockefeller with creamed stinging nettle and lardo crumbs (above judges only or we missed them) and two of the best dishes of the night Cappelletti filled with milk braised pork, testa brood, hazelnuts and sage. Our favorite bite of the night were the Pork Leg Gravlaks with pickled mustard seed gribiche; We also missed his dessert which was a crepinette with sultana mustard and pistachio.

tete de cochon and pork rinds
Chorizo sausage and pate en croute
FloJo's vote and the actual winner of the evening was Jason Franey with a Canlis-esque line-up of pork delicacies.  Pork Rinds made with sauerkraut powder; fleur de sel and shigoku oyster ailoi; Tete de Cochon (head cheese) with Dijon mustard gel; Pate en Croute with sauce gribiche, sauternes and pickeled radish; Chorizo sausage served on a honey roll with rouille and fermented Fresno chiles.  The desserts were crazy in that you could totally taste the pork ingredients and somehow they worked.  Pork pot de créme, with bacon brittle, cinnamon and green apple espuma garnished with whipped cream and pork jerky shavings, which were promised to make the dish taste even better.  There were also bonbons filled with smoked back fat and bourbon caramel.

Pork pot de créme and bonbons

And the winner is....Jason Franey!  The 2013 Northwest Prince of Pork.

On the drive home in our pork coma state, we were left wondering if Cochon 555 was worth the heavy price of admission ($125 per person general admission and $200 VIP)?  We liked the heavy weight Northwest Chefs that were cooking and the free flowing alcohol.  We felt the effort was there on the food, beautiful and creative and definitely highlighted many parts of the heritage pigs they were given. However, putting food out for four hundred people is not easy and many of the dishes were not something we would seek out to eat again.  We didn't enjoy the mad rush to try to make it to every chef's station and try their offerings.  Not everything was put out at the same time so you were constantly left guessing if you had tried everything.  It was extremely crowded and with a glass in one hand and a plate in the other it became a challenge trying to eat and drink in peace.  With all the different stations there was a lot going on that it felt overwhelming, especially in a space that did not feel conducive to level of activity and its guests.  It was standing room only and not a lot of options when it came to seating so you felt like a chef in that we were on our feet the whole time.  The music was too loud all night long and made it very difficult to hold a conversation.  Several times during the evening the lights were turned off to show a video presentation while many of the guest were still trying to eat or get to the next station.  The registration process was clunky and not well thought out for the space and involved signing for an envelope of cash and handing that over to another worker to give you a wristband (which we never fully understood the sense in that).  We will probably not return next year because we found more downside than up.  But, we came we saw we ate pork!

 Live life with pork, flavor and fun!

Recipe for Mikey's Black Gold Punch
Brave Horse Tavern


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