Cochon 555 in Seattle: The (Pork-Filled) View from the Judging Tables
Yesterday at Cedarbrook Lodge, Cochon 555 (now in its fifth year) returned to Seattle as part of its 2013 tour, and I had the opportunity to serve as one of the judges. While the event generally features five chefs (accompanied by five winemakers) who cook five heritage pigs in a wide variety of ways, the luck of St. Patrick's Day brought with it a bonus chef. This year's competitors were Jason Franey from Canlis, Joshua Henderson from the Huxley Wallace Collective, Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi from Joule and Revel, Jonathan Sundstrom from Lark, Shane Ryan from Matt's in the Market, and Jason Barwikowski from The Woodsman Tavern.
This year there was not a judges' table, per se; instead, the 20 writers, chefs, winemakers and the like on the panel roamed the rooms to taste the plates of six participating chefs. Judging was based on the criteria of presentation, utilization, and flavor, with the results compromising 49% of the event's overall vote. The remaining 51% came from the general public, who would make their choice for best chef by voting for the best bite of the day.
This was true nose-to-tail eating, most prominent in the long-cooking broths with head parts, the ubiquitous use of lardo, the addictive chicharrones, and the appearance of pork in the desserts. Judges sometimes received more "courses" than the general public, giving more to weigh in judging and causing us to weigh more as a result—such that I barely stumbled out to the floor for a "Family Meal" of barbecued pig, as well as another round of swine and sweets for dessert.
My personal favorite bites were Sundstrom's Double Pork Broth with nettles, cilantro, basil, and pork tenderloin, liver and crispy ear; Yang and Chirchi's Squealing Noodles made with pickled pig skin, green curry, and prik; and Franey's Pork Pot de Crème with bacon brittle, cinnamon macaron and green apple espuma. As much as my stomach needs a rest, I'd gladly have a round of those three items for my next meal.
The competition was close, but in the end Jason Franey was crowned the Prince of Pork. (In breaking news, today he advanced as a finalist for a James Beard Award as Best Chef: Northwest.) He'll move on to compete at the Grand Cochon event at the June Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Check the slideshow above for a complete look at the pig-filled dishes.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.