Friday, February 22, 2013

Atlanta Cochon 555 recap

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 10:25 AM

PIG OUT: Chef Whitney Otawka's dish of sanguinaccio cannoli and pork skin at Cochon 555
  • Brad Kaplan
  • PIG OUT: Chef Whitney Otawka's dish of sanguinaccio cannoli and pork skin at Cochon 555

One got a Red Wattle. Another got a Gloucester Old Spot. There was a Berkshire, and a Yorkshire, and a Tamworth-Berkshire, too. If you know what I'm talking about at this point, chances are you were either at the Atlanta stop on the national Cochon 555 tour, held at the downtown Sheraton last Sunday - or at least wish you were. Because that was the place where five chefs were handed five heritage breed pigs and given the task of feeding a few hundred hungry pork-loving souls.
butchering at Cohon 555
  • Galdones Photography
  • Rusty Bowers of Pine Street Market and Mihoko Obunai butchering demo with a magnalitsa pig Cohon 555

Taste Network Atlanta founder Brady Lowe created Cochon 555 in 2009 to educate food lovers on breed diversity and family farming. If you've never thought about how a different breed of pig might influence the decisions of a chef, that's exactly the point of the event - to make us think about the very existence and possibilities of heritage breed pigs in our industrial factory-farm age.

Atlanta's Cochon 555 event was an eating and drinking porkasborg, a porkapalooza, a whiskey-a-go-go.

The fairly generic Sheraton ballroom space didn't contribute much to the atmosphere, but the focus was clearly on the five chefs and their creations. Each team manned a small station, ringing the room, churning out waves of single- (or slightly bigger than single) bite plates.

Chef Ryan Smith (third from left) named Prince of Porc at Cochon 555
  • Galdones Photography
  • (from left) Brady Lowe, Joe Schafer (King + Duke), Eric Ottensmeyer (Leon's Full Service), Whitney Otawka (Farm 255), Guy Wong (Miso Izakaya), Ryan Smith (Empire State South), Tommy Searcy (Gum Creek Farms), and Todd Mussman (Muss & Turner's) at Cochon 555

Eric Ottensmeyer from Leon's Full Service got the Red Wattle, Whitney Otawka from Farm 255 in Athens got the Gloucester Old Spot, Joseph Schafer from the upcoming King + Duke got the Berkshire, Ryan Smith from Empire State South got the Tamworth-Berkshire, and Guy Wong from Miso Izakaya got the Yorkshire. Can I really tell you that the "lean and juicy, beef-like taste" of the Red Wattle stood out from the "sweet and creamy with hints of nuttiness" character of the Berkshire? Not exactly. But I can say that these chefs all pulled off some impressive, decadently pork-laden dishes.

The Empire State South team produced some of the most profound porky bites (chef Ryan Smith was crowned "Prince of Porc" at the end of the night). Cute little bologna soup dumplings should have carried an "Explosive porky liquids inside!" warning. A pork terrine with cracklin' bread and, ahem, crackling Pop Rocks worked way better than any dish with Pop Rocks should. Then there was the warm lard griddle cake accented by spicy cracklins from Leon's Full Service. Good lard! I am a sucker for dishes that combine maple syrup and pig fat, and this one did just that exceedingly well.

Chef Guy Wong prepares pork pone broth tonkotsu ramen
  • Galdones Photography
  • Chef Guy Wong prepares pork bone broth tonkotsu ramen

Miso Izakaya featured a rendition of their pork bone broth tonkotsu ramen. It was the most satisfying sip of the night, despite the presence of so much good bourbon nearby. My "boldest dish" award goes to Whitney Otawka and her sanguinaccio cannoli, proudly featuring pork blood and skin alongside a sprinkling of pistachios. (Sense a theme here? Pork fat? Pork skin? Pork bones? Yes.)

There was pâté and porchetta, bacon and pork belly, kielbasa and kakuni, scrapple and blood sausage. And that was all before the "family meal" prepared by Todd Mussman of Muss & Turner's, using yet another heritage breed - the Duroc pig. Thankfully, Cochon provided some variety with tables of Rappahannock River oysters, Cypress Grove cheeses, and beers and wines and bourbons and cocktails.

Several breeds of whiskey at Cochon 555
  • Galdones Photography
  • Several breeds of whiskey at Cochon 555

There were almost as many breeds of whiskey as there were breeds of pig - High West, Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, and Templeton. Amidst any thoughts of sustainability, sustenance was not a concern, but sustaining one's sobriety certainly was.

I missed the swine and sweets course an hour or two after the main event - I was all porked out. But I was also thankful: for the farmers, and the chefs, and those five pigs who gave their lives just so we could talk of the wonders of Red Wattle, the succulence of a Gloucester Old Spot, and the beauty of a buffet's worth of Tamworth-Berkshire.

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