Last Sunday, 14 of the countries' finest chefs descended upon Chicago to face off in the ultimate pork showdown at Grand Cochon, the 9th Annual Cochon555 Grand Finale. After months of qualifying competitions, recipe development and extensive heritage swine prep, the group of competitors met at Morgan Manufacturing to flex their pig prowess in the quest for the coveted title of "King or Queen of Porc." Each chef presented 3 different bites for judges and event goers to taste, critique, and vote on. In the end, Chef Jonathan Granada of LA's Otium reigned supreme and was crowned the 2017 King of Porc.
Upon arrival at the grand event, my partner Chris and I embarked on an initial energetic surge, devouring samples, taking photos and blurting analysis between bites in a tornado-like pork fueled frenzy. Moments later, binge eating fatigue set in and we melted into a swine-induced stupor, ambling our way throughout the rest of the festival grinning like morons. I’ve included my top 5 highlights from our evening below, but in retrospect, we should have paced ourselves a bit better to ensure a fair “taste” through all 14 stations (I couldn’t even stomach another bite by station 8 or 9). You can also check out my gallery of favorite images we took from the event here.
1. "Hori's" Shrimp Shumai
I admit, I am extremely partial to dumplings in all forms and fashions. Biases aside, Chef Manabu "Hori" Horiuchi of Houston's Kata Robata turned out some undeniably fine pork shoulder, leg and shrimp shumai topped with ponzu and red chili. Chewy dumpling skin, rich meaty filling, and just enough heat made for the ideal umami bite...and I'll take about 10 more.
2. Every Dish from Chicago's Own Ricardo Jarquin
It might have been my subconscious, or perhaps fate, taking over, but I swear that I did not realize I was eating the Chicago hometown favorite's dishes when I declared that I had found my vote for the night's winner. Only after I had already inhaled one of each of the beautifully plated morsels pictured below did the hovering crowd clear just enough to see the sign declaring Chef Ricardo Jarquin as their rightful creator. There might just be a visit to Travelle Kitchen + Bar in our very near future...
3. Chef Love at Saxon + Parole
I'm a total sucker for happy people that love what they do, and NYC Chef Nicole Gajadhar and her team certainly seemed to be loving their time together serving up some of the most playful creations at Grand Cochon (think pork pastrami egg rolls, blood noodles and chocolate-caramel jowl ganache with cotton candy). If you don’t believe me, just look at the warmth in that embrace right there - I love it!
4. Cory Morris' "Dirty Steak"
Is it a sin to the swine if one of my highlights at a pork cookoff was a big ole hunk o’ beef? Chef Cory Morris of Chicago’s Boleo stole a bit of the pig’s thunder with his caveman size tomahawk “dirty steaks” aka meat grilled directly on coals, serving them with charred spuds in a smoky ode to meat and potatoes. No, we haven’t forgotten about you red meat.
5. Mitch Mayers' Mini Pickles
There’s something undeniably appealing about mini foods, and Chef Mitch Mayers’ chubby little dills (served aside SPAM headcheese, blood rye bread, sauerkraut, and racelette cheese topped with a teensy quail egg and Russian hollandaise) were too cute not to grab my attention. Perhaps the Seattle-based chef had foreseen their appeal, because he was so kind as to provide tiny take-home jars of the little guys for us admirers to snack on later.
Well, that’s a wrap on my highlights from this year’s Grand Cochon. Don’t forget to check out my gallery of favorite photos we took at the event at the link below. If you made it to Grand Cochon this year, I want to hear YOUR highlights, so leave them in a comment. If you missed it, keep your ears open for next year's dates, it is not to be missed!