This past Sunday, I learned exactly how much pork I could eat in one afternoon. Squealer alert: A lot. I attended the Cochon555 Washington DC event at the Loews Madison Hotel downtown, and it was a food lover’s paradise.
Cochon555 is a nationwide culinary competition where five local chefs go head to head to see who can create the perfect bite of locally raised heritage breed pork.
The tour has stops in ten cities across the U.S. and this past Sunday was DC’s turn. The winning chefs from each city will compete at Grand Cochon in June for the title of Queen or King of Porc.
The D.C. Contestants
This year’s DC chefs were Jennifer Carroll of Requin, Anthony Lombardo of The Hamilton, Louis Goral of Rural Society, Jonah Kim of Yona, and Marjorie Meek-Bradley of Ripple with special appearances by Eric Bruner-Yang formerly of Toki Underground and Danny Lee of Mandu. Basically, every famous chef in DC was there whether competing, cooking, judging or eating including Mike Isabella, who has served as a mentor to three of the five competing chefs.
But First, Cocktails
The party started off aptly, with a smorgasbord of cocktails from Buffalo Trace, Dry Sparkling and The Perfect Purée.
Before entering the main room, you could sample cheese, wine and beer along with the cocktails.
I had a small taste of Right Proper’s Baron Corvo before moving onto the main event. The cheese and wine were tempting, but I knew I needed to conserve stomach space if I was going to survive the evening.
Taste #1 – The Hamilton
Our first bite was one of my favorites of the night, The Hamilton’s Detroit-style “coney dog” with pig’s heart chili and yellow mustard. Yep, pig’s heart. The point of Cochon555 is to prepare dishes using the entire pig, so even a standard looking chili dog is likely to have a twist.
Taste #2 – Rural Society
Next we moved over to the Rural Society station, where we had a lovely chat with Chef Goral about Argentinean food. The coolest thing about this event was the accessibility of the chefs and the joy they seemed to have in discussing their food and the DC dining scene. Even among the contestants there was a feeling of collaboration and mutual support for the industry, which just makes my little DC heart swell with pride and happiness. His empanadas with house made morcilla were delicious as well.
Taste #3 – Yona
Chef Jonah Kim’s station was arguably the most consistently crowded of the night, perhaps because of its awkward corner placement or perhaps because of how delicious his offerings were. The sour sausage tartare (above) was another first for me, like the pig heart chili it’s not something I would likely order on a menu, but I had come here to eat and would not be put off by squeamishness towards certain foods and textures. I had no idea raw sausage could be so delicious.
Other tasty dishes from Chef Kim included a king crab dumpling with pork and king crab broth (above), that the chefs could hardly keep stocked on the table, and a pork belly and turnip cake with xo sauce (below).
My second favorite, after the tartare, was the mapu tofu with Szechuan pork butt gravy (not pictured). Of all the dishes I tried over the course of the evening, this is the first one I wanted in never-ending supply; it was light and refreshing and an excellent combination of textures with the addition of puffed rice and “sexy scallions”.
At this point, I stopped for a cocktail at the Martínez Lacuesta station. They were serving a delicious vermouth and bitters based concoction that went down with alarming ease.
Taste #4 – Requin
For some reason or another, the lights kept going off and on during the event, so I didn’t get many great photos of Requin’s table, but I did snap my favorite of Chef Carroll’s dishes.
I will be honest, because it was so dark, I had no idea what I was eating when I shoveled down this “porc”iterole with brown butter-blood ice cream, kumquats, pistachios and porc fat glaze.
Blood ice cream you guys. And you know what? It was MF delicious. And while blood ice cream seems infinitely weirder to me than blood sausage for a reason I cannot fully work out, I have to give major props to Chef Carroll the balls that it took to make this dish and make it so well. For that reason, it might have been my favorite bite of the night. (Or maybe it was the coney dog, or the tofu, or… I’m glad I wasn’t a judge.)
Taste #5 – Ripple
Last but not least was Chef Marjorie’s station and her team of tutu wearing chefs. She seems like such a fun person to work for and had an infectious smile as effortlessly plated her food.
Ripple’s offerings covered a wide range of mouth-watering flavors from Indian to French.
My favorites were the light, bright and refreshing Vietnamese spring roll and the melt-in-your-mouth pastrami sandwich, a nod to her new sandwich shop Smoked & Stacked, which is opening soon in Mount Vernon Square.
Now We Drink
All the food properly sampled, it was time to get serious about the drink offerings. Pinot Noir was abundant for its ability to pair with a wide range of pork dishes. My favorites were from Alysian in Sonoma (they were also pouring a killer Sauvignon Blanc) and this stunner from Germany.
Lake Sonoma Winery was my favorite wine table to visit, and each varietal was delicious, especially their Zinfandel.
Tom made sure to take advantage of the pig luge at The Hamilton station…
… and has the swag to prove it.
And The Winner Is…
Soon it was time to wrap up the night and announce the winner, but first MC Billy Harris called all of the chefs up to the stage for a much deserved cocktail and round of applause.
Chef Jonah Kim, who also competed in 2015, took home the prize. In my participation-trophy-type-of-mind I wish they all could have won, but agree at Yona’s offerings were excellent and worthy of the honor.
It was so much fun to watch him accept his new role as Prince of Porc for Washington DC, and I can’t wait to see how he does at Grand Cochon this summer.
Cochon555 Washington DC was absolutely one of the most enjoyable and delicious evenings I’ve had in a long time, and one I’ll remember for years to come. I may have had a two-day food hangover a result, but it was 100% worth it.
While it was interesting to me to learn that I enjoy pig heart, pig blood and raw sausage, items I would shirk away from resolutely in a restaurant, it was even more inspiring to watch so many people work toward a common goal with such creativity and enthusiasm. Cochon555 is the world’s first environmentally conscious nose-to-tail pig competition. Its goal is to raise awareness about heritage breed pigs (read more about them here), to support local farmers and to educate chefs and diners about the importance of sustainable and responsible food. I’ll eat to that.
A big thanks to Dry Sparkling, a sponsor of Cochon555, for providing me with tickets to the event. Dry Sparkling offers unexpectedly crisp sparkling beverages, which serve as an excellent palate cleanser when eating your weight in pork or, you know, dinner.