Monday, April 25, 2011

Pigging Out at Cochon 555

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of landing at the Ritz Carlton for what I easily consider to be the best foodie event of 2011 so far- Cochon 555. After watching a YouTube teaser of this event and buzzing about it with my foodie friends, I anxiously endured a 3-month waiting period after securing my ticket. When finally, the fateful day had come.

This particular Sunday was a cold, snowy one, and for me was the perfect kind of day to warm up with some fine food and a glass of wine. As I walked up the main stairway of the hotel, I was kindly guided towards a preview tasting with a few wine purveyors, as well as a bounty of oysters and caviar. I was like a little kid in a candy shop- shovelling my face with bite after bite, yet a little voice in the back of my head telling me not to spoil my dinner. And yes, there was much more to come.

5 Chefs, 5 Pigs, and 5 Wineries- hence the namesake of Cochon (French for pig) 555. Denver was it's 7th stop on a prestigious list of 11 cities in 2011- and honestly I'm personally excited by the fact that our up-and-coming food haven was considered. But without question- we have some fine talent, and this was highlighted in the roster for the evening: Jennifer Jasinski (Euclid Hall, Rioja, Bistro Vendome), Alex Seidel (Fruition), Kelly Liken (Kelly Liken Vail), Frank Bonanno (Luca, Mizuna and more) and Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson (Frasca). Guaranteed, if you land at any of these restaurants you are in for a top notch Colorado dining experience, so having all 5 of them in one room for the night was a treat.

The focus of the event is not only to share excellent food, but it's also designed to promote a more back-to-basics approach of raising Heritage breed pigs in a sustainable fashion. Being a Chipotle ex-patriot, I can vouch for the legitimacy of such practices and the fact that it yields superior product. So when it comes to the finest food in Colorado- you'll find that you're often presented with a Heritage breed variety in your heavenly hog dish of the evening.

Tonight's specific dishes were about a hundredfold. What seemed like a never-ending pit of pig just kept going and going.  Long queues of anxious foodies lined up at each of the 5 portable kitchens to try each chef's catalog of dishes- and I can personally say that I failed at the bold task of getting one of everything. But I can say that everything was incredible. From Kelly Liken's bacon waffle to Alex Seidel's Banh Mi sandwich, Jennifer's tacos, Bonanno's sausage and Lachland's charcuterie. It all worked for me- and I can't wait for the next time it lands in Denver. Crossing my fingers.

The Frasca team quickly assembling samplers of their offering.

Along with the culinary competition- a carving competition, 40 minutes to turn a side of hog into industry-standard cuts.

Chef Kelly Liken running the show- and a flurry of folks getting it done. Her Bacon Waffle was my favorite dish of the night- for some reason the sweet, smoky thing really did it for me.

Bonanno's table executing the full anatomy of a hog- into 20 different plates. Everything from sausages to blood pudding.

Frasca's housemade pork rinds. So good even pigs want to eat them. Guilty.

Frasca's Charcuterie plate

Whole Roasted Pig- as a centerpiece finale to the event

The 5...

...and the champ. Alex Seidel takes home the title of The Prince of Pork!

The night ended with Fruition taking home the big prize- one that 20 local foodie judges bestowed upon him. And this is a prize that every egocentric chef in the world would want (coming from one, all chefs are egocentric)- that being bragging rights. It's all about who's best, and this was a talented spread. My only complaint was that I didn't get enough. For next time, I have a plan. Eat in the next line- and bring an extra set of arms. Briskly move from table to table, and cover your plate in mounds of food at each kitchen. Scarf and move on. Don't lolly gag. Next time, I am guaranteed to get a full experience. And there will be a next time.

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