COCHON555 took place on Sunday, March 13, 2016, at the Viceroy in Santa Monica. The five competing chefs this year were Bruce Kalman (Union/Knead), defending champ Walter Manzke (Republique/Petty Cash Taqueria), Jason Neroni (The Rose Cafe), Carlos Salgado (Taco Maria), and Brooke Williamson (The Tripel/Hudson House/Playa Provisions). Each chef had to prepare 6 dishes using a whole heritage pig from 5 different farms.
Somehow, I was invited to be a judge, along with 20+ others, including chefs Ben Ford and Micah Wexler, writer Lesley Balla, apron entrepreneur Ellen Bennett, and many others more worthy of the title than I. It’s a harder job than it looks, having to eat 30 dishes in less than an hour. I actually couldn’t eat again until nearly two hours after the event opened to the public. #firstworldproblems, I know.
Unlike the photographic extravaganza that my coverage of last year’s event contained, this year I took a meager dozen images, since I was more focused on judging. Here’s a brief overview of each chef’s offerings, with my favorite from each chef indicated, in the order we tried them:
Brooke Williamson had a whole Red Wattle heritage pig from Rainbow Ranch that she used to create her dishes. She and her husband chef Nick Roberts and their team made a bone broth, coppa di testa, pork and salt fish fritter, BBQ sandwich, fregola w/pork and shrimp sugo (my favorite!), and candied pork shoulder floss with cotton candy.
Bruce Kalman and his team used a Berkshire from Peads & Barnetts to create their heavy metal themed “Porchettabout It” menu, consisting of aptly named dishes like Bang Your Headcheese, Welcome to the Jungle Funnellini (my favorite!), “Hells Balls” Spicy Pork Meatballs, Porchettabout It Sandwich, Kickstart My Heart Cotechino Sausage, Kiss the Pig Candy Cannoli. They also served a Twisted Sister Lemonade spiked with bourbon.
Jason Neroni had quite a spread, with pork and cheese croissant, roasted pork meatballs, pork lasagna, baguette w/beurre de jamon, pork ramen, and stuffed trotter terrine (my favorite!) made from a whole Mangalitsa heritage pig from Winfield Farm.
Walter Manzke, once again paired up with a Cook Family Farm Berkshire pig, offered pork tartare, Vietnamese salad w/pig ear, Cubano sandwich, pork tourte de gibier (my favorite!), and a fried pork foot mantou bread.
Carlos Salgado created a chorizo and potato taco, pozole, cemita croqueta (my favorite!), tamal de puerco pibil, salsa negra de manteca, and puerquito ice cream sandwich out of his Red Wattle heritage pig from Walnut Keep.
The competition last year was fierce, but it was relatively easy, at least for me, to pick out Ricardo Zarate and eventual winner Walter Manzke as the best two. This year, it was a much closer race. In the end, I had Brooke Williamson and Bruce Kalman tied. I thought Carlos Salgado took more risks out of all the chefs, and many picked his as their favorite. Jason Neroni’s stuffed trotter terrine was my favorite dish of all the competitors.
Walter Manzke, who *spoiler alert* won again this year, was obviously very strong, but I think his dishes from last year were even better. Still, he is definitely a worthy choice to represent LA at the national competition later this year in Colorado.
Beyond the competitors dishes, there was food and drink out the wazoo at the event! Ray Garcia, who won the Los Angeles competition two years ago, and then went on to be crowned the King of Porc for 2014, manned a tapas bar that had my favorite non-competition dish, corazon asado, roasted duck hearts!
Another year, another amazing COCHON555 event, and I didn’t even go into the Punch Kings cocktail competition or all the wines and other drinks available at the event! Already looking forward to next year, though I’m not sure if I’d judge again… Ah, who am I kidding? Of course I’d judge again if they asked!