On Sunday, March 10th, Vail and the Four Seasons welcomed the traveling culinary competition and tasting event, Cochon555, for it’s 5th Anniversary Tour. This culinary extravaganza features five chefs, five pigs, and five winemakers, and aims to promote a national conversation around the sustainable farming of heritage-breed pigs. The five local chefs creatively prepared a menu from the entirety of one 200-pound family-raised heritage breed of pig, nose-to-tail. The lucky attendees sample the dishes and vote to decide the winning chef by voting on the "best bite of the day".
Chef Kelly Liken, Executive Chef/Owner at Restaurant Kelly Liken served 5 incredible dishes, which she paired with Crispin for her tasting meal for the judges. Her Pork Belly Ramen had a very light, refreshing Asian flavor and highlighted bacon dashi, pork belly, a hard-cooked quail egg, crunchy daikon and sunflower sprouts. The Chorizo Street Tacos and Lime-spiced Chicharones had an incredible smoky flavor that was perfectly offset by the tart fresh lime juice, pickled red onions, creamy cotija cheese and bright cilantro. Chef Liken also presented a delicious Eastern Carolina BBQ made by smoking the head, trotters, and shoulder. She served the shredded meat with a crisp-on-the-outside / warm-melt-in-your-mouth-on-the-inside hushpuppy and honey pork “butter”. But, my favorite dish of Chef Kelly Liken’s was her Slow-Cooked Porchetta Sandwich served on warmly grilled ciabatta rolls. This juicy sandwich was elevated by spicy giardiniera, roasted fennel and cauliflower florets, and garlic aioli. She also delighted our palettes with her Sweet & Savory Moraccean Pastilla. Chef Liken and her restaurant team were in true form, especially as Sarah John, Restaurant Kelly Liken’s marketing and business specialist, created a special drink for the cocktail competition.
The exciting cocktail competition, “Punch Kings”, was a new addition to the events of Cochon555 in 2013. Six local bartenders competed to create a punch from Breckenridge Distillery Bourbon. Of this drink competition, I was absolutely enamored by the Peach Old Fashioned Punch. The Breckenridge Bourbon was splendidly mixed with housemade orange simple syrup, cherries, oranges, bitters and topped with a canele of frozen peach sorbert and champagne. Possibly because of the champagne, this cocktail paired so well with the sustainable oyster sampling station. Freshly-shucked oysters were dressed with Himalayan pink salt and bacon vinaigrette - simply decadent!
Along with Chef Kelly Liken, Chef Lon Symensma succeeded in taking us on a culinary world tour for the palette. He featured a “CrackLIN’ Jack”, which completely resembled the candy-coated popcorn, Cracker Jacks. But, Chef Lon made sure to correct me, stating it was “Porcorn” – bacon caramel pork rinds and peanuts. This play on the baseball stadium treat was complete with a miniature pink pig prize inside the box. (I am pretty sure this represented America.) From Spain, Chef Lon used the pork butt and loin in a Chorizo-Lomo Teardrop served atop one of my favorite salads of the evening – a crisp, tangy, “ensalada” with almonds, olives and manchego cheese. He also created a 2-part Malaysian dish called “Bak Kut Teh”. I first tried the bite of fried tofu with leg roast, and then I finished the tasting with a pork bone tea, which resembled a flavorful soup broth (to the soup-lover in me). Chef Lon is the Executive Chef/Owner of ChoLon in Denver.
Chef Hosea Rosenberg is the owner of Blackbelly, a catering company in Denver. He featured a plethora of sausages for sampling. I welcomed this extremely purist approach to the pig that he was featuring – a Berkshire hog from Eden Farms, Iowa. Berkshire is the most popular of heritage breed and yields a brighter pork with sweet and creamy meat, with a subtle hint of nuttiness. One of my favorite things that Chef Hosea created was another beautifully pure “Nose to Tail” Soup that had a most developed, complex broth – a roasted bone dashi (to acheive this flavorful, perfectly clear broth, is not simple). The soup was served with an “everything” meatball and onion & liver dumpling.
Guests were also treated to a rare butchering demonstration of an entire hog. Chef Bill Greenwood, executive chef at Beano’s Cabin in Beaver Creek, was the presiding butcher and displayed his talents of breaking-down a pig for an audience of a few hundred attendees.
Chef Alex Seidel, Executive Chef/Owner of Fruition, brought an island-taste to the event. I started with a elevated take on a lettuce wrap – Kalua Roasted Pork Shank served with a sesame soba noodle salad and crispy fried pig’s ear, atop a lettuce cup. I absolutely enjoyed the marinated pork loin satay with Asian BBQ, coriander leaf, and compressed pineapple. It was perfectly cooked to a moist and juicy consistency. And, one of my other bites of joy was the gluay banana fried to a crisp with lemongrass-cured lardo. Chef Alex also created a Pork Face “Spam” Musibi, which was wrapped in delicious sesame, sweet soy rice. Chef Alex’s sweet finale of Confit Heart & Spleen “Bottarga” (a play on Mediterranean caviar) with mango panna cotta and coconut haupia (a coconut-milk based Hawaiian dessert). Fittingly, Chef Seidel was adorned in a lei!
Chef Jason Harrison, Executive Chef and creative force behind the re-styling of Flame at the Four Seasons in Vail, created a very unique sampling of flavors, served in a very out-of-the-box fashion. Chef Jason served his Heritage Pork Rilette in a sardine can of sorts with pieces of apples, hazelnuts, lardo brioche and pig tails and ears. For a more delicate, intricate spin on a Split Pea Soup with Ham, he made his own peas in a molecular-gastronomical way. He served the peas with a smoked trotter broth, smoked ribs, root vegetables and cracklings atop. Not exactly the pea soup of generations past, but a broth with a burst of flavors and a hint on nostalgia.
Chef Jason also delighted guests with porchetta belly drizzled with a tangy Carolina truffle bbq / pork au jus sauce. Luckily, he played to his many talents and included some of his whipped potatoes, for which Flame and Chef Harrison are so well known (the menu offers them prepared as Wasabi Whipped Potato Purée). These creamy and smooth potatoes were utterly perfect alongside the pork, just as they are paired with a filet mignon or “long bone” tomahawk featured on Flame’s menu. Chef Harrison also featured a Black Pepper Char Siu Bao with confit jelly and scrumptious charred scallions. And, for a chance-taking approach, he made a dish entitled “Nasty Bits”, which showcased some of the less familiar pieces of the hog: head croquette, pastrami tongue, deviled kidney and brain terrine. Finally, as a last taste, Jason created a S’more with bacon graham cracker crumbs, lardo fudge with crunchy pecans, candied belly and rind marshmallow. On Flame’s “Sandwich Board”, Chef Harrison highlighted the areas from which the dishes came ... brilliant! This entire presentation contributed to Chef Jason Harrison’s crowning as “Prince of Porc”! He will try to extend his reign when he competes at the Grand Cochon event at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen on Sunday, June 16, 2013.
The 5th Anniversary Tour of Cochon555 includes 14 cities and continues the conversation of heritage pigs around dinner tables across the nation. Brady Lowe, founder of Cochon 555, is passionate about increasing awareness of the sources that support a more natural, sustainable food system, like Tender Belly – which provided all the hogs of the competition. This event celebrates people like Erik and Shannon Duffy from Tender Belly, who are favorably tilting the scales back towards local, responsibly grown food. The farm-to-table mentality and approach is certainly in the forefront of the epicurean audiences’ minds, as they relished or "pigged-out" (if you will) on the pork dishes!