Heritage is a term thrown around in the food world a lot these days. There’s heritage honey, green beans and dozens of types of grains to contend with. Southern chef Sean Brock used the term on the cover of his debut cookbook. The word evokes the concept of long ago — the way products were farmed and cultivated years-to-generations in the past. The name also, for the most part, certifies quality. Cochon 555 founder Brady Lowe is a tireless champion of heritage pigs. That is, quality pork with breeds called Berkshire, Tamworth and Duroc that are humanely raised and raised on grass, grains, nuts and fruit. You might have spotted heritage pork at your favorite restaurants as of late (chefs love the stuff).
A lot of credit goes to Lowe, who started his cooking series seven years ago and has expanded to over 20 events annually including barbecue, small chef dinners and the 555 competitions, where five local chefs are given an entire heritage pig a week in advance and asked to work a little culinary magic. The tour kicks off this weekend in New York City, with dinners on Friday and Saturday and the big competition on Sunday at the Andaz 5th Avenue. Participating chefs in New York City include Anthony Sasso (Casa Mono), Hooni Kim (Danji), Mike Santoro (Andaz 5th Avenue), Francis Derby (The Cannibal) and Andy Yang & Pichet Ong (Sachi). We recently caught up with Lowe to talk about the upcoming tour, and which is his favorite heritage dish out of the 1,500 he’s tried.
How has the line on “cooking with heritage pig” changed over the past seven years?
From a little sparkle of a whisper in kitchens, to a now full-blown amped, passionate conversation. Independent farming is here forever and we are going to make sure everyone can get ahold of responsibly raised pork, no matter the cost.
I know that you love all your Cochon 555 chefs, but which guys are you most looking forward to seeing compete this year?
On a national note, I love them all. Everyone works so hard. It’s not fair to isolate anyone, so can we change the question? Who will I be most excited to see and have a perfect Manhattan with and celebrate the heritage farmers all over the country? Well, that would include great chefs and friends like Matt Jennings of the forthcoming Townsman in Boston (that dude is blowing up). I would say Victor Albisu in Washington D.C., Francis Derby and Mike Santoro of the NYC lineup, and Hooni Kim from Danji (that is my soul food). Ronnie Killen and the entire crew from Houston are such great folks. Jody Adams in Boston, the entire Minneapolis lineup, especially Gavin Kaysen who has been a part of Cochon 555 since the first year, and now is in the Midwest. Spike Mendelsohn and Danny Lee of Mandu in Washington D.C. Walter Manzke and Ricardo Zarate in Los Angeles; both of those chefs are going to bring it.
Phew, those are some chefs! OK, what pork preparation are you sick of seeing? What dish most excited you in 2014?
I am not sick of anything with heritage breed pig, knowing the alternative pork that is out there. I am happy. Long live ramen broth, any type of broth, that is the foundation of life for me. BROTH! Anything with bread is overdone for me. GIVE ME THE HOG, THE WHOLE HOG.
Favorite new cities in 2015?
Houston and Minneapolis for sure. With an emerging culinary scene, Minneapolis has built an impressive reputation that cannot be ignored. As the city’s dining scene continues to grow, chefs are increasingly placing importance on ethnic diversity and sustainability. With a variety of chefs that are feeding a new hyper-local food culture, we love the chance to get behind-the-scenes with this amazing pool of talent. Houston also has cultivated one of the best culinary scenes in the country. The chefs there continue to build an impressive reputation that cannot be ignored. As Houston grows, so does the ethical diversity of the culinary champions, their landscape has a well-known (celebrated) emerging culinary scene produced by a diversity of culture and flavor hungry kitchens.
Looking back over the past seven years, what was the single best dish you have ever tried? Going to hold you to one. Sorry.
I still love Greibenschmalz, a delightful meat paste from my friend Devin Knell at the French Laundry. It was like a mind-opener, a new frontier of fat, crisp, shredded muscles and onion, garlic, herbs racing through my palate. It was insane. But, still, it's very hard to pick one out of almost 1,500 dishes in seven years.
You've done your thing with heritage pig. What is the next food "education" challenge you would take?
Genetics. I want to create a global model that helps small farmers succeed, and we are on the way to do just that. This would be education for all species lovers — anyone wanting to take the heritage bloodline preservation model and build a diverse farming system support the good food movement.
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