Mark Noguchi, on judging Cochon555




Photos courtesy of Cochon555

Five pigs, five chefs, five wineries: Cochon555 is porkapalooza of cooking competitions. This year marks the fifth year of the pork tour, which stops in cities including Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and this year, for the first time ever, it's coming to Hawaii. The tour kicked off in New York City, and local chef Mark Noguchi helped judge the event. For a peek at what's in store when Cochon555 comes to Hawaii in September, here's Noguchi's account:
 
The event is the brainchild of founder Brady Lowe. Its mission is to bring a greater awareness of heritage breeds of pork to an enthusiastic crowd of chefs, young cooks and all types of food enthusiasts. The premise is simple, take five whole heritage breed pigs, five wineries and throw them into the hands of five talented chefs. This year Cochon celebrated with an all-female lineup.

Chef Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter had an Old Spot Duroc Cross and celebrated the pig by doing a Chinese New year menu. Her definite stand outs were Shanghai Soup Dumplings & Pork Skin “noodles.” The skin was cooked and rolled through a pasta machine, sliced and tossed with a mapo tofulike sauce.

“It’s all about technique and taste with these women,” said Jason Vincent of Nightwood restaurant in Chicago. Jason would know—he was last year’s Grand Cochon555 winner.

Pig & Khao’s Leah Cohen did a tribute to her Filipino roots with a Large Black. Bred for its taste and hardiness, it was a truly exceptional pig. Cohen did a Filipino tasting which included dinuguan, blood stew. It was the smoothest, butteriest, most decadent blood stew I've ever had.

Fellow judges chef Lee-Anne Wong (of Cooking Channel's Unique Eats) and Christine Quinlan (deputy editor for Food and Wine) got stoked on Back Forty West’s chef Shanna Pacifico. Pacifico had a Tamworth from Massachusetts, and she showcased it in a stellar feijoada. “You can taste her roots, that’s so frickin’ cool,” said Wong.

Elizabeth Falkner from Krescendo served a ridiculous lard biscuit, pork belly confit and caponata from a Red Wattle.

There was an amazing demo by the Brooklyn Meat Hook’s GM and star butcher Sara Bigelow. Something about a beautiful woman wielding a bone saw and cleaver makes me a little weak.

Porky fingers and a mason jar of whiskey requires sitting down to count the votes. When it was all said and done, the winner of this year's Cochon555 went to A Voce’s chef Missy Robbins. No surprise there, because Robbins' Italian menu was something that had entire tables of judges rolling their eyes in ecstasy. From her testa (pig head terrine) to polpetti (fennel meatball,) everything screamed technique and thought. In every dish, the distinctive, nutty flavor of the Berkshire came through.

Stuffed, liquored up and giddy, judges and VIPs started to make their way to the afterparty ... for more pork. I had so many ideas, inspirations and thoughts running through my head, I decided to ninja out of there quietly.

The experience was something for the books, something that I believe every food fan should attend at least once in their life.

Mark Noguchi is the co-founder of Pili Hawaii and former chef of Heeia Pier and Deli.
Cochon555 comes to the Big Island, September 21. Get more details at cochon555.com

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