[Photos by Galdones Photography for Cochon Heritage BBQ]

As part of his 18-stop Cochon 555 tour around the country to raise awareness of heritage breed pigs, Brady Lowe has created a new offshoot of the initiative to “put the local back into barbecue.” The first Cochon Heritage BBQ event was held last summer in one of the cradles of barbecue, Memphis, TN. This year, Lowe has tripled his efforts with stops in Memphis, St. Louis and Louisville.

Of course, with September being National Bourbon Heritage Month, it was logical that Cochon Heritage BBQ bring its traveling road show to the ultra-hip 21C Museum Hotel right down Main Street from Louisville's venerable Whiskey Row. Almost 400 guests entered the modern art gallery–like space of the hotel’s common area, where they were greeted by a welcome cocktail courtesy of The Urban Bourbon Trail, a collection of restaurants, bars and tasting facilities that feature the best of brown likker around downtown Louisville.

Slightly different in format than regular Cochon 555 events, chefs competing in Heritage Barbecue utilize a heritage breed pig from a local farm to produce six plates that mimic the offerings at a traditional barbecue joint’s menu, but of course elevated to a level of haute cuisine. The rationale behind the 4 + 2 format (pull, muscle, bone, stew, mayo and mustard) is to demonstrate how using all of a hog removes the burden of a small farmer to sell the less traditional cuts and parts of the pig.

A pop-up butcher shop broke down an entire heritage pig in the middle of the main room of the cocktail party and then sold the parts off as a fundraiser for the local culinary school. Thanks to the modern art gestalt of the 21C gallery space, the sight of a butcher breaking down a pig while stationed in front of an installation of a menorah fashioned from pistols and rifles seemed somehow fitting.

The competing chefs represented some of Louisville's finest restaurants and executed elaborate presentations of dishes from all parts of the pig. Kevin Ashworth and Edward Lee of Milkwood demonstrated some of Lee’s Asian flair in their selections of plates, including a peppery banh mi that left guests seeking to put the fire out with a sip of the many bourbons and wines on offer. Coby Lee Ming of Harvest seemed right at home with the hog, thanks to her comfort with regional rustic cuisine at her own restaurant. Tyler Morris from Rye on Market took guests on a culinary tour of Hawaii, Morocco, Germany, Brazil and Poland with his takes on whole hog utilization. Levon Wallace from Proof on Main had the home field advantage since he runs the kitchen at 21C, and his dishes were a little more complex than the others, perhaps thanks to his easy access to his own equipment. A finishing dish of a lard-fried corn cake topped with lard/maltodextrin powder and a scoop of mustard ice cream was definitely a showstopper.

In the end, a panel of judges used criteria like utilization of whole animal, cohesiveness of menu and the always difficult to describe “pigginess” of the dish to choose a winner who received 18 bottles of bourbon and a CVap system donated by many of the sponsors. The big pig of the evening was Annie Pettry of Decca. Her menu concentrated on Spanish flavors, thanks to a Mediterranean culinary tour she took earlier this summer, where she fell in love with Iberian cuisine. Highlights of Pettry’s winning offerings included a savory stew called Fabada de Chorizo and three different presentations of quick city hams that she whipped up during the seven days that all the competitors had to work with their pigs.

Each chef gave a callout to their specific breed of pig and the farmer who raised them, and the Louisville crowd roared with approval for the efforts of all involved. Lowe is either fearless or forgot where he was as he toasted the chefs and passed around a bottle of Hudson Bourbon from (gasp!) New York, but the polite Southern crowd allowed him to leave the room largely unaccosted for the Bluegrass State faux pas. Lowe praised Louisville for its incredible ingredients, topsoil and source-driven chefs and promised to return next year to help “put the tasty back into weird.” He will certainly be welcomed back.

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