On Sunday, Cochon 555 landed in Chicago at the ultra-lux Four Seasons Hotel. This time around, the competition consisted of Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat), Carlos Gaytan (Mexique), Danny Grant (recently named one of 12 Best New Chefs by Food & Wine Magazine of RIA and Balsan), Jason Vincent (Nightwood), and Mike Sheerin (The Brewpub at Three Floyds)—all competing for the coveted title of Prince or Princess Porc.Each was to cook every bit of a rare breed of heritage hog, such as Swabian Hall and Red Wattle (all from regional farms).
This was my first time at Cochon 555, and I’m truly humbled by my peers. To really experience everything this highend event has to offer, you have to push yourself to limit. Each chef had five “bites” (in most cases, far more than a single bite). To wash them down, there were five wineries present, two breweries, and a bourbon and rye bar tended by Daniel Hyatt of San Francisco’s Alembic.
While all of this frantic tasting was going on, Rob Levitt and his team from the Butcher & Larder conducted a fascinating whole-animal butchering demonstration.
After tasting the 25 “bites,” it was time to vote one chef as the winner. There were certainly no bad dishes, but for me it was between Jason Vincent and Mike Sheerin. Both delivered an insanely creative and delicious collection of dishes. Ultimately, I chose Mike Sheerin for his blood consomme tom yum with pig-skin noodles, and a dish that consisted of a thin slice of porchetta topped with bacon, littleneck clams and nori. (The pig-head tortellini served atop an avocado and ramp puree was nothing to snort at, either.)
As good as Sheerin’s table was, the judge’s honors went to Jason Vincent of Nightwood, who served up an amazing (and very convenient) five-partitioned plate. Since you got everything at once, you could work through the bites in the order in which they were meant to be served. All were spectacular, but the showstopper was a pork stew. I was told that it was basically made of fatty bits and topped with fresh garbanzo beans. It was savory, spicy, rich and absolutely awesome. Vincent will go on to compete in the Grand Cochon event at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen in July.
You’d think that would be enough but, after the voting was done, Kevin Hickey, chef of the hotel’s Allium served up an amazing “barbecue” plate that consisted of another five dishes including a wonderful pork-kimchee soup and a carnitas taco with pickled radish, onion and cilantro. Congratulations to Jason and all of the competing chefs! Will someone please bring me a salad? Here are some photos from Huge Galdones.