You know, there are days when I question the merits of running a food blog. It’s a time consuming, frustrating, often unappreciated process. Juggling HTML code, photography, cooking and writing can consume a considerable amount of one’s time. Sometimes it’s bit too similar to real job than I’d prefer my hobbies become. This is natural I suppose, especially when you have to turn down a happy hour with friends. But then, once and a while, you have a day like last Sunday. Or more specifically, when Foodbuzz hooks you up with free tickets to check out an event you’d normally wouldn’t be able to afford. So from here on out, when I start balling up my fist and shaking it furiously my computer, I’ll just lean back in my chair, close my eyes and think back to Cochon 555.
Cochon 555 got it’s start down in Atlanta as a benefit to showcase local chef skills, ecofriendly farm raised animals, and to help raise awareness for ICompassion. I was really lucky to have a chance to attend as well as bring a few friends. With a $125 price tag per ticket this was a luxury all of us would probably pass on despite the fact FIVE different top notch DC chefs compete with a whole pig Iron Chef style. Oh and did I mention wine? Well, that’s intentional. After Vintage Virgina I was a bit drained on wine note taking, but I took more issue with the fact that most of the wines were flown in from California. What the fuck?! This fact was made all the more annoying given that I had just spent the entire day before surrounded by 50 local wineries. But this event was all about pig, and by god Cochon 555 did not disappoint on that promise.
Featuring Brian McBride’s team from Blue Duck Tavern, RJ Cooper of Vidalia, Nicholas Stefanelli of Mio, Jamie Leeds from Commonwealth Gastropub and John Manolatos of Cashion’s Eat Place, Cochon 555 very much delivered on showcasing some diverse, local culinary talent.
To start, we were given a chance to sip a few of Patz & Hall’s Pinot Noir appellations, nibble on some excellent cheeses from our very own Cowgirl Creamery and taste some great appetizers alla Market Salamander. Sliced melon wrapped in prosciutto over a crostini, pork tenderloin topped with bruschetta, even a shot of some pork/bean soup concoction. If we had called it a day then and there I would have been pretty happy.
But when the doors to the main ballroom finally opened, and I could see what the event truly had in store for us, I won’t lie, I teared up a little: Five different tables, each with busy chefs scrambling to plate various dishes while the lines quickly formed. A winery sandwiched in-between each “kitchen” almost as an after thought to fill up your glass on your way to the next table. And there, right in the middle of the ball room was a whole, heritage hog untouched and prepped for dissection. And oh what a glorious dissection it was.. but that’s another post.
While I was transfixed by the dismembering tutorial my friends made a B-line to Mio’s table to grab some some pork pate and various other goodies. They were good, but I was looking for something a bit more ambitious. It was not long before I got my wish.
When they rolled out their pork meatloaf(?) with a egg yolk ravioli and basil leaf inside I was actually inspired. This dish is getting recreated.. in what I’m sure will become a future fuck up post. Herbie and subtle, after each bite the dish got a little more complex but comforting at the same time. The yolks may turn some people off, but I thought it blended with the pork in a really unique way.
Then we made our way over to Cashon’s Eat Place, a local neighborhood spot not far from my house. I only had the chance to try the lettuce wrapped pulled pork, but the flavors were clean and light. The spicy pork paired well with the crisp greens.
Then on to Blue Duck Tavern. The pictures I was able to take were of the judge’s plates so they were a bit more posh than what we were served. The pork filled steamed dumpling was interesting and tasty, but the bourbon cider shooters somehow infused with pork stole the show from the rest of Blue Duck’s plates. No idea what the paper thin slice was like.
I wasn’t really sure about this next dish from BD when my friend handed it to me. A pork terrine(?) with pickled ramps over a crostini turned out to be better than my first impression. A bit fatty, I liked that it was a refined, well composed dish.
But my favorite of the bunch was Jamie Leeds over at Commonwealth’s table. Her pulled pork sandwich over buttery bun and homemade spicy mustard was just out of this world, and I’m really not exaggerating. This plate was deceptively simple. Comforting and innovative, a perfect match for the chef with ‘Gastropub’ in the name. There was actually a moment where I got distracted and put the plate down, only to hastily realize how stupid it would be to not finish this plate and forced the remainder into my mouth. I voted for this dish because it was my favorite of the day, but was disappointed in the lack of variety from the Commonwealth team.
And then the Winner, R.J. Cooper and his gang from Vidalia. They were also one of my favorites that I almost voted for. Amazingly they plated TONS of different pieces of pork and still had plenty of food to serve long after everyone else had wrapped up, and I don’t think they’re line was less than 10 deep the whole time! A very, very worthy victory.
My first pass was a great variety of sausage, fried pig’s trotters (feet) and a little bready thingy all with a pink apple puree. Oh and a bowl of pork and been stew that was lick-your-bowl-clean good.
Second pass, was the type of plate you’d be pissed if you paid $20 for, but given that it was free and another variation of pig, I had no complaints. The little cube of pate was the best I had tried all day, melting on my tongue instantly. Then a dehydrated apple slice and pickled radish were each paired well with a respective sauce.
There was actually a 3rd pass, but my friends ate theirs so fast I missed the photo.
Overall, the event went fantastically. My only regret is getting so overwhelmed with the shear volume of choices and variety I missed a few things that I’m sure I would have loved. Despite having a few friends with me to help take notes and stand in lines (and I love you guys for the help DR and AS), there was just too much going on. But that’s in no way a complaint. The California wine thing (especially the tool from Pax Vineyards) pissed me off considerably more, and it the only real criticism I have of the event. Cochon 555 is every pork lover’s dream come true, and I’m pretty sure the rest of my summer food adventures will just have to live in this day’s shadow.