1,500 pounds of heritage pig, nearly 600 attendees and over 30 sponsors flocked to Denver’s Renaissance Stapleton Hotel late Sunday evening for the pig event of the year. Cochon555, an epic, regionally-focused food fest and tour, stops in 20 major US cities annually to bring fierce chef-driven competition, local-takes on varietal pork dishes and regional and international wines, spirits, and beers, all with the intrinsic goal of igniting conversation and bringing awareness to heritage breed pigs.
Members of the Denver food world took to the stage last night to partake in the 555 competition featuring five winemakers, five pigs, and five competing chefs. Read on below for some of the highlights from the 10th year of one of the world’s first nose-to-tail pig cooking competitions.
An All-Out Pork Fest
The electric excitement and appetites of the crowd were palpable as guests flowed between the two food- and booze-filled conferences rooms to sample this year’s 30+ creative, pork-centric dishes from the contending chefs, culminating in a glorious all-out pork feast that lasted for over three hours.
The creativity was evident throughout. Each chef’s table featured a variety of small bites, miniature entrees, even indulgent desserts. Pork tacos, trotter and tail gumbo, a pork summer fruit salad, regional varieties of prosciutto, cured fennel salami, pork skin “rice” in an arroz con leche dish and even a pig head double down with brain mayo were just some of the unique takes seen from Denver chefs during the competition. Every part of the animal was deemed delicious and none too extreme to shy away from. Some dishes that stood out during the event — a pork rind rice crispy treat dipped in a chocolate ganache fountain from Chef Kyle Foster of Julep, Chef Brother Luck’s (of Four by Brother Luck) watermelon pork salad topped with the youth-jarring taste of Pop Rocks (which Chef decided to use to fulfill both a sweet and crunchy element) and the simple yet satisfying strips of candied bacon from Nate Singer of Blackbelly.
The Year’s Prince of Pork
Kyle Foster of Julep was crowned this year’s “Denver Prince of Pork,” with his colorful yet balanced menu that featured six dishes, a Duroc pig and a “blend” of two types of hogs from New York and New Jersey. “The national competition gets more intense and dynamic every year,” said Cochon555 founder Brady Lowe, “Chef Kyle’s winning dishes were bold, modern, thoughtful, and full of the kind of flavors that enhance what heritage breed pigs have to offer. We can’t wait to return to Denver […]”
Chef Foster’s menu showcased his heritage pig through an array of takes. The menu included a radish and celery dish topped with a brown butter lemon curd, cured pork heart with a caraway gastrique, a “Tasso, Trotter & Tail” gumbo with pickled okra, “Duroc Asado De Tira” with roasted plantain mash and a habanero mayo, “Pig Head Double Down” with bacon, Colby Jack and “brain mayo,” and a crowd favorite, the “Pork Rind Rice Crispy Treat” with a lard Ganache chocolate fountain. Foster will go on to the national finale hosted in Chicago, September 30.
A Boozy Smackdown
In between the pork mayhem floated a sea of booze tables ladened with rich bourbon whiskeys from sponsors like Woodford Reserve and Breckenridge Distillery, tangy margaritas and Palomas featuring El Tesoro’s tequila and wines from Cooper & Thief and Chateau D’Esclans. There was even a twist on bloody mary’s from Stem Ciders — that swapped vodka for its Salted Cucumber Cider — garnished with a generous slice of marbled bacon. On the beverage side of the event, two competitions went down. The “Somm Smackdown” which asked five of the areas top sommeliers to present their favorite wine to pair with the dishes in the food competition and “Punch Kings,” a spirit-based competition featuring five bartenders. Liana Appel of Beast + Bottle won with her Schloss Saarstein, 2013 Pinot Blac from Saar-Mosel Germany and Mercantile Dining and Provision’s Patrick Murphy took home the gold with his “Bicameral Mind” — a concoction which featured Breckenridge Bourbon, rum, a peach brandy, black tea and lemon Oleo Saccharum.
The night culminated in the epic breaking-down of a colossal pig at the “Pop-Up Butcher Shop” put on by husband-wife duo Kate Kavanaugh and John Curtiss of Western Daughters. And in its 10th year, Cochon555 raised over $10,000 for the Piggy Bank Foundation — a Missouri farm organization that gets family farms back on their feet after floods, fires, disease or other natural disasters.
While the event has drawn some controversy in the past with animal right’s activist groups and other protestors, Cochon555 strives to bring awareness to the public and food world on the benefits of choosing this alternative breed of pig. The event advocates for whole-animal usage, demonstrating the economic and taste advantages of this — heritage pigs foster richer, more robust flavors that make your mouth “come alive as the juicy meat and crystalline fat hit your tongue,” and cut down costs when utilized in a nose-to-tail capacity. They also highlighted the “healthier” benefits of choosing heritage, noting that the majority of the swine are raised on family forms who abstain from the use of antibiotics or steroids.