COCHON 555 Los Angeles 2015
This past weekend, COCHON 555 descended on the Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica for its 2015 Los Angeles competition, pitting 5 chefs with 5 whole heritage pigs against each other. The prize was the title of Prince of Porc and to move on to the Grand Cochon competition in Aspen, Colorado, where the winning chefs from 10 competing cities will vie to be crowned the King of Porc!
Los Angeles is the defending champion city, as it is home to last year’s Grand Cochon winner Ray Garcia, formerly of FIG at the Fairmont, who has just opened B.S Taqueria, a casual eatery, and will soon open Broken Spanish, a more upscale venue, both in DTLA.
The five chefs competing this year were Tony DiSalvo of CAST at the Viceroy, Steven Fretz of The Church Key, Walter Manzke of République, Kris Morningstar of Terrine, and Ricardo Zarate, formerly of Mo-Chica, Picca, and Paiche. Each chef had a different whole heritage pig to work with to and crafted up to half dozen dishes each. I was fortunate enough to sample most of them before I cast my vote!
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- Pig Trotter and Duck Confit Terrine, Strawberry Mostarda, Foie Torchon, Pickled Green Strawberries, Wild Sorrel
- Loin Pastrami, Kimchi Thousand Island, Rye Crostini, Melted Raclette, Miner’s Lettuce, Riesling Vinaigrette
- Coppa di Testa, Romesco, Roasted Calçot and Weiser Potato Salad, Crispy Ear
- Green Chorizo Gravy, Poached Quail Egg, Pork Fat Biscuit
- Char Siu Rib, Crispy Skin and Shallots, Red Cabbage and Radish Slaw
- Steamed Bun, Belly and Butt, Maple-Bourbon Mustard, Pickled Wild Spring Onions and Asian Pear
Chef DiSalvo was probably the underdog going into the show, even with home field advantage, considering his competition. I sampled all of his offerings except the ribs. I found them all to be refined, well executed, and delicious, but they didn’t quite make as big of an impression as the offerings from the other chefs–except for his take on biscuits & gravy (one of my favorites of the show) and the headcheese (I’m a sucker for Romesco)!
Steven Fretz‘s menu, cooking with a Hampshire pig from Rainbow Ranch Farms:
- Pork Coloradito Mole Enchilada, Salsa Verde, Queso Fresco, Tomatillo, Avocado
- Filipino Pork “Bao” Slider, Pickled Cucumber, Cilantro, Serrano Chili Lime Aioli
- “Pork & Beans”, Petit Salé aux Flageolet, Jean Louis Palladin Foie Gras Espuma
- Green Papaya Salad, Cured Pork “Vietnamese Style”, Nuóc Châm Vinaigrette, Crispy Shallots, Mint Roasted Peanuts
- Brown-Butter Glazed Brioche Donut, Chicharrón Lard
- This Lil’ Piggy, Rendered Pork Belly Infused Calvados, Lemon, Black Peppercorn, Bitters, Thyme Syrup, Apple Cider, Apple Chip with Bacon Dust
Chef Fretz and his Church Key crew were all decked out in “Old West” garb, complete with stick-on mustaches! They put out four savory dishes, one sweet, and a cocktail; I managed to miss the sliders. I really thought they nailed the Southeast Asian flavors in the papaya salad, and their donuts by pastry chef Ian Opina never fail to please, but my favorite “dish” of theirs was probably their potent potable, crafted by mixologist Devon Espinosa!
Walter Manzke‘s menu, cooking with a Large Black pig from Cook Pigs Ranch:
- Pork Belly, Black River Caviar
- Jambon-Beurre, Just-Baked Pain de Mie, Ham, Rodolph Le Meunier Normandy Butter
- Pork Ceviche
- Arroz Caldo, Filipino Rice Porridge
Chef Manzke’s menu eschewed description for the most part, as if he wanted the dishes to speak for themselves. Fitting that the dish I thought was the least inspired of his quartet, the ham & butter sandwich, had the longest description–which is not to say I disliked it. It was just overshadowed by his other dishes, like the sous vide pork belly that Jonathan Gold mentioned was favorite, or the pork ceviche that I absolutely loved. However, it was the Arroz Caldo, a hearty rice porridge studded with bits of cooked pig blood and topped with a soft-poached egg, that stole the whole show for me!
Kris Morningstar‘s menu, cooking with a Kunekune pig from Olde Reminisce Farms:
- Charcuterie Board: Smoked Ham, Rillettes, Andouille, Headcheese, Terrine de Campagne
- Blutnudel: Blood Pasta, Boudin Noir, Beets, Brown Butter-Balsamic
- Pork & Beans: Morcilla, Pork Belly, Butter Beans, Spicy Broth
- Smoked Pork Sandwich: Canadian Bacon, Pulled Pork, Sweet Mustard, Dill Pickle & Picked Fresno Chile Relish, Hawaiian Roll
- The “McDowell”: Duck & Pork Cotechino, Egg, Trotter, Foie Torchon, Duck Ham, Terrine English Muffin
- Sanguinaccio: Chocolate Blood Truffle
Chef Morningstar’s dishes were probably the heartiest of all the competitors (Chef Fretz’s a close second). Unfortunately, I somehow missed half his dishes, sampling only the charcuterie, smoked pork sandwich, and the pork & beans–loved that morcilla! I had multiple servings of the charcuterie, though, which definitely lived up to my high expectations!
Ricardo Zarate‘s menu, cooking with a Red Wattle pig from Walnut Keep Farms:
- Incan – Carapulcra de Patita: Pig Trotters & Chorizo Stew, Ancient Dry Potato, Mint Jalapeno Chimichurri (12th Century)
- West African – Sangrecita: Blood Sausage Crostini, Brie Fondue, Sunny Side Up Quail Egg, Serrano Sauce (1587)
- Italian – Jamon Del Pais: Peruvian Ham, Lardo Brown Butter, Dijon Mustard Sauce, Spicy Pickled Cucumber (1650)
- Chinese – Arroz Chaufa: Chifa Style Peruvian Fried Rice, Smoked Cecina, Baby Scallop, Popped Quinoa, Ginisang Bagoong Sauce (1613)
- Japanese – Tiradito de Cabeza: Head Porketta, King Mushroom Escabeche, Charcoal Tomato Ponzu Sauce, Rocoto Leche de Tigre (1800)
- Iberian – Churro Rellenos: Duck Fat Dough, Foie Gras, Lucuma Relleno, Bacon Sugar, Pisco Cranberry (1582)
Chef Zarate may have been the most ambitious with his menu, highlighting the international influence in Peruvian cuisine with his “A Fusion of 5,000 Years” theme. I managed to sample all but the dessert, and I enjoyed everything I had. The headcheese was a no-brainer top contender for me, but surprisingly, it was the ostensibly simpler Peruvian fried rice that impressed me the most!
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I thought each of the chefs did a great job, but since this was a competition, I had to narrow them down to the one who I would vote for. Immediately, the two front runners in my mind were Walter Manzke and Ricardo Zarate. While Manzke only produced four dishes, two were probably in my top five of the competition, with the Arroz Caldo leading the charge. However, Zarate’s menu was truly impressive, with great focus and sense of purpose. Plus, this was Zarate’s first big showing since his business troubles last year that resulted in the closure of Mo-Chica and Paiche and his conscious uncoupling from Picca, so he could use the win.
In the end, I took my cue from the message on the wooden coins we were given to vote with–FOLLOW THE FLAVOR— and I dropped mine into Walter Manzke’s ballot box. Chef Manzke did indeed win title of Prince of Porc for Los Angeles, and will go on to compete at the Grand Cochon competition in Aspen this June. Congrats to Cook Pigs Ranch for having winning pigs for Los Angeles two years in a row! Congrats to Walter Manzke and his team for all their hard work all weekend–they had worked the entire day before the competition catering a large wedding and still brought their A-game that day!
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In addition to all the competition dishes, COCHON 555 had a cornucopia of non-competing foods and drinks to sample from. The TarTare Bar is an annual tradition at the event, sponsored by Creekstone Farms, and was tended this year by chef Michael Kahikina from Barrel & Ashes, who served an amazing beef tartare using beef heart, smoked brisket, burnt ends, braised tendon, and sirloin.
Desserts were handled by pastry chef Carlos Enriquez of Patina Group, who produced a trio of playful sweets:
- Curry “Chicharrón” (vegan puffed rice cracker), with coconut, coriander, passion fruit, finger limes, espelette pepper.
- Chocolate Bourbon Bacon Bread Pudding, with smoked lardo ice cream; looked like a thick slice of pork belly.
- Nitro Cotton Candy: small meringues dipped in liquid nitrogen that allowed you to momentarily breathe “smoke” when eaten.
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With all of the above, I haven’t even touched on all the wines and cocktails being poured throughout the event, and I won’t be covering that aspect of the event, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective). Though I am by no means a teetotaler, I am not a big drinker, and I did not sample enough of the drinks at the event to speak on the topic. I’ll just say a quick congrats to Devon Espinosa of The Church Key for winning the Punch Kings cocktail competition!
I had an amazing time at COCHON 555! I ate too much, didn’t drink enough, and got to meet and chat with the Jonathan Gold for 15 minutes! To wrap up probably my lengthiest post ever, I’d like to say “Congratulations!” again to chef Walter Manzke of République for his win. Well deserved, in my opinion! Despite not being crowned the Prince of Porc, the other four chefs should all be very proud of their showing. I think chef Ricardo Zarate made a great first splash on his comeback tour!