Seattle: Judging Cochon 555, the Super Bowl of Swine

[Photographs: Luuvu Hoang; Slideshow photographs: Leslie Kelly, unless otherwise noted]

Just how much pork can one person eat without feeling like a complete pig?

Oh lardy! On Sunday in Seattle, I ate more than 30 dishes as a judge at this year's Cochon 555, the nationwide pigstravaganza that pits five chefs in eight cities against each other in a sort of Super Bowl of Sustainable Swine. The chefs are paired with five farmers who raise heritage breed pigs, which is what this whole event is all about. (Can we get a round of applause for those outstanding pig producers? YAY!)


A sampler plate. [Photograph: Luuvu Hoang]

This year's event in Seattle featured last year's champ, John Sundstrom of Lark, Holly Smith from Cafe Juanita, Jason Stratton from Spinasse, Rachel Yang from Joule and Revel and Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell who now has four restaurants. An impressive lineup for sure and they brought their A-game. And by A-game, I mean pork belly topped with kimchi, bacon brittle gelato, pork blood ravioli, Scrapple Bomba, ham topped with "lardonnaise", trotter fritters, lard biscuits and much, much more.

While the food was gorgeous and tasted as good as it looked, it was a huge treat to meet the farmers and hear their tales. Most are small, family operations, looking to recapture the deep flavors and the over-the-top fattiness of breeds of old: the Hampshire (Jones Family Farms), Red Wattle (Mosaic Farm), Tamworth (Zorn Family Farm), Berkshire (Newman Farms) and a cross of Old Spot, Duroc and Poland from a couple who call their farm The Collective.

To get primed for this bazillion calorie pig-out, I came hungry, just as organizer Brady Lowe suggested. "Pace yourself," he instructed the 20 judges. "Don't get overly ambitious about eating everything or you're going to break into a pork sweat tomorrow."

The biggest challenge was holding back. Everything tasted so wonderful. And the chefs were mostly pretty brilliant in using the whole beast. (Though I didn't see any snout or tail on the table.) Plates of porktastic bites were delivered over the course of about an hour. Each chef walked us through their painstaking preparations.

When the last plate was cleared and while ballots were tallied, a couple of Porcelet de Lait that had been roasted Luau-style by Adam Stevenson at Earth and Ocean were served to the crowd of 300.

The winner?

John Sundstrom took top honors for the second year in a row. His Thai-style crab and pork sausage was one of my favorites from a long list of dazzling pork dishes. Can hardly wait for next year.

More photos in the slideshow »