It was a freezing January afternoon in 2009 when Brady Lowe launched his multi-city Cochon 555 heritage pig cooking competition at the Hiro Ballroom in New York City. The crowd included journalists, fans of gratis wine, bloggers and the guy who wears overalls to food events around town. We walked around sampling pork-centric dishes from chefs like Zak Pelaccio and Mark Ladner. Del Posto handed out chocolate-covered espresso beans laced with pork fat and smoked salt. Though we all got kind of drunk on bourbon and pork, heritage pig cookery — the topic at hand — was pretty much lost on all of us. We had yet to be schooled about Red Wattle and Hampshire pork breeds, and how using these products (as opposed to the factory farm garbage) was crucial. We had yet to be introduced to the power of Brady Lowe, the tireless champion of going H*A*M with the good stuff — a man who has grown his Cochon 555 brand into a calendar of 17 events taking place around the country.
Lowe returns to New York City on February 10 to kick off his fifth tour with an all-female competition (!!) featuring a diverse cast of the city’s best. Leah Cohen of Pig and Khao, Elizabeth Falkner of Krescendo and A Voce’s Missy Robbins will all be there (get your tickets here). We reached out the Lowe to find out how he has built on the success of Cochon 555.
How has the education of heritage pork grown since you started your events five years ago?
Five years ago, there was not a national craze for pig. Whole-animal utilization was not on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Heritage breeds where not available to chefs like they are today. It was hard work: calling up farms, getting pigs. I would not say it’s easy now, but there are lots more availability and species in markets where there was none.
The Cochon 555 event itself pulls basically the who’s who in whole-animal cooking. How do you pick your chefs? Is there an application process, or are you just in the scene and know…
It’s about timing, listening to the market and reading everyone’s menu. There are guidance tools like media, friends and other chefs. I’ve got a knack for finding out who’s buying whole pig, reading farmer mentions and heritage species on menus. Basically, who is promoting the growers and what they grow. The events are about balance, regional influences, raw cooking talent and passion. I have been watching and listening to chefs move around as much as what farms are raising new pig breeds.
And an all-female roster in NYC!
It was not possible five years ago and it’s such an honor to have such great chefs stand up to support the event, its cause and take part in the friendly competition. I wanted to start off my five year tour with something that has never been done, and an all female lineup is something I have never done. I am excited.
Favorite new cities in 2013?
Hawaii and Philly.
What were some of your favorite dishes during last year’s competition?
1. Pig face poutine, pig lard confit fries, whisky cheese from Duskie Estes and John Stewart
2. Heart Dog from Michael Tuohy
3. Pastrami liver mousse on rye, Thousand Island, cornichon
4. Everything in Aspen was amazing. Edit: I was a judge at that one and boy was it ill!
Is there a pig preperation that was at first cool, but now has sort of been done to death? As in, MOVE ON chefs. I’m thinking fat back chocolate pudding, but that is just me.
Consommé is rough. Ramen is hard too. There is a technique that is hard to capture and translate, as the broth is so personal to everyone’s taste. I like ramen you can stand a fork up in when it’s cold. I think bones are something that needs more attention as it can be done so well.
Is there are dish that CANNOT be made from pig?
Good question. MY answer: Heritage pork is magical, from it anything can be created.
All theory: You’ve done your thing with heritage pig, what is the next food “education” challenge you would take?
Heritage rabbits. It would be something so fun to do.
Do you practice meatless Mondays?
Huh? I guess that would make sense after Cochon.