On July 24, Brady Lowe culminated three years of pork-fueled Cochon 555 events with All-Star Cochon, which featured 10 past winners/fan favorites and four renowned butchers, who all joined forces to showcase the “magical” animal in The Cosmopolitan’s Chelsea Ballroom. That’s not counting contributions from chefs in the host hotel’s culinary stable, including David Myers (Comme Ca) and Scott Conant (Scarpetta, D.O.C.G.).
In total, the All-Stars served 2200 pounds of prized pig to 878 attendees. We spoke with all 10 pork-focused chefs at the Super Bowl of Pork. Most of them bypassed bacon, striving to achieve even greater porcine glory, and generously taking the time to explain their chosen breeds and dishes.
Jamie Bissonnette from Boston’s Coppa and Toro used a Tamworth and Berkshire cross from a woman in Vermont named Alithea. “Everybody in New England pretty much raises Berkshires or Tamworths because they’re good for that climate,” said Bissonnette. “They’ve got all that fat and they don’t run themselves dry, run all that fat out in the wintertime, like a lot of pigs do, just trying to stay warm. These pigs are just great. She raises them on apples and bales [of hay]. The flavor of the meat, the color of it is just perfect…They pull on a lot of the flavor of what they eat. She finishes them with all the apple culls from the whole region of where she is, so they pretty much get to eat upwards of 50 pounds of apples a day, if they want. It really comes through in the meat.”
As for the dishes, Bissonnette really wanted to prepare something indicative of Boston. “When I think of Boston, I think of Fenway,” he said. “Fenway Sausage is the sausage guy, so I made little sausages on mini New England style hot dog rolls, flat sides, and instead of being fennel sausages, we used green coriander and lemongrass and Kaffir lime and made them very Thai flavored. A little mayonnaise and instead of relish, like we do in Boston, we made a green papaya relish. It’s like green papaya salad and kimchi puree to make it relish. It’s sweet. And I love making porchetta to show off the color and the striation. These pigs are known for their inner muscular fat. When you see the belly like that, you can see just how this pig naturally is, so I thought of doing a porchetta with Vietnamese bologna inside of it, and wrapping it in a banana leaf and steaming it would be a little different than a regular porchetta, and fun.”
To say the crowd responded well to the bacon cotton candy would be an understatement. Need proof? Just look to Eater LA reporter and Scoops Westside owner Matthew Kang. Mary Dumont from Harvest in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used a Chester White pig from Black Pig Meat Co. “Back at the restaurant, I use Large Blacks, which are a heritage breed from a local farm right near Cambridge,” said Dumont. “They’re very long and somewhat lean body shape, but the marbling is amazing, and they have this chestnut-y quality to it that’s really amazing. The bacon that [Zazu co-owner] Duskie [Estes] makes, she kind of has this sweet and spiciness to the bacon and it’s really, really beautiful and I love it. For the cotton candy, it works out well because the flavors are already very pronounced. It pairs really well with the caramel.”
“I really wanted to come up with like a trip to the fair theme,” said Dumont of her chosen dessert. “I wanted to people to have this childish, exhilarating experience, because people put this in their mouth, the expression on their faces, their eyes open up and it’s like, “Ah, I remember this from when I was a kid.” It’s so fun for me to watch people do it. I was searching for a way for people to emulsify bacon into a caramel and came up with this recipe. It works amazingly, so basically emulsify the bacon fat into a caramel that I’ve already made, then dry it out and crush it up into a sugar, and the sugar’s what we put into the cotton candy machine.”
Stephanie Izard of Chicago’s Girl and the Goat has a chef friend up in Madison, Wisconsin, who raised a Swabian Hall pig for her. “We actually did a taste test about two weeks back,” she said. “We got two half pigs of two different breeds, to see which we liked better…We liked the Swabian Hall better, so then when we got a pig for this event, we sort of knew what we were looking for. It’s kind of fun to blind taste test different breeds of pig next to each other. I don’t think we think about just how different they are, the amount of fat and flavor…[The Swabian Hall]’s “got the perfect amount of fat on the belly, like if you’re doing a pork belly. That’s really important to me. Some of the other breeds are just too fatty if you just want to do bacon or something like that. Swabian Hall is great.”
The delivery date ended up dictating her dishes for All-Star Cochon. “Our pig didn’t arrive until Wednesday,” said Izard. “We decided to do a ground pork soup, and then the pig head, since we’re doing a butchering demo today, this is kind of the coolest butchering thing we do at the restaurant, taking all the meat off, rolling it up, braising it overnight and slicing it. So we wanted to make sure to break out our pig face.” She layered crispy pan-fried pig face over a pork lard crumpet and topped it, banh mi style, with julienne carrots, cilantro and chile aioli.
Devin Knell, Executive Sous Chef at Thomas Keller’s flagship Yountville restaurant, The French Laundry, “tried to emphasize with this is all the things that can be done” in terms of techniques and anatomy. “I call this dish the Swiss Army Pig,” he said. “Really, it’s based on the concept of a Swiss Army knife, where you have a lot of different things folded into one smaller components. I wanted to give everybody a chance to eat the entire pig in two bites or so, so what I have is a bit of the loin. We turn the blood and the back fat into boudin noir sausage. The shoulder was turned into mortadella, and inside the mortadella we have braised pork face, the cheeks, the tongue, the heart, the ears and the trotter meat, all folded in there. Then it’s surrounded in unsmoked bacon. On top we’re doing a crispy walnut and pork skin cracklin’. It’s really everything is in there except for the oink, so to speak.” He also incorporated sour morello cherry puree and pickled mustard seed vinaigrette.
He sourced his Red Wattle pig from T.C. Gemmell, a farmer in Suisun who has a walnut orchard and uses the walnuts as feed. “You can taste the nuttiness inside the fat as well,” said Knell. “It sounds cliché, but you really do taste what it’s fed, in the final product.”
Knell also offered counter upon counter of griebenschmaltz with lard crackers.
Mark Ladner of Manhattan’s Del Posto went with a Tamworth pig based on a recommendation from friend Patrick Martins with Heritage Foods USA. He prepared Prosciutto Cotto Tremazzini with dobbiacco and Cold KuneKune Porchetta Terrine, KuneKune being a rare, hairy breed of pig.
“We have this interesting story with this,” says Ladner, who pointed to different parts of the terrine. “This is the belly. This is the loin. This is the shoulder. It was intended to represent religious unity. Not that they eat a tremendous amount of pork in Palestine or in Israel, but the loin was spiced with an Israeli spice, which was saffron, crystallized honey and dried lime powder. And the coppa was spiced with a Lebanese kibbe spice, which is parsley, cumin, coriander, dehydrated tomato powder and chilies. So everything was cooked separately and reassembled and bound with head. So you have the Israelis and the Palestineans, bound with a head. [slaps hands] Let’s get this going!