A Year of Cochon555: Chicago 4/26 and Heritage BBQ 9/27

Portioning a Heritage Pig into cuts for sale at Cochon 555

Portioning a Heritage Pig into cuts for sale at Cochon 555

I was fortunate to visit Cochon 555 two times this year, once on April 26 and at the Heritage BBQ on September 27. For those of you who haven't been, it is a mission to educate chefs and consumers on heritage breed pigs raised by family farmers. It is a local mission as well, which donates to local charities and promotes farm to table produce and pork. The tour has hit many US cities: NYC, Boston, Houston, San Francisco, DC, Denver, Aspen, Miami, Austin, Minneapolis and has ventured up to Canada in Toronto.

On my visits, I had the pleasure of tasting heritage breed pork prepared by some of this city's finest chefs like Nathan Sears of The Radler, Chris Marchino of Spiaggia, John Manion of La Sirena Clandestina, Nicole Peterson of Found Kitchen, Kurt Guzowski and Thomas Rice of TETE Charcuterie, Rob Levitt of The Butcher & Larder, Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia, Erik Freeberg of Bar Toma, 2012 King of Pork Jason Vincent, Edward Sura of Perennial Virant, Scott Manley of Table, Donkey & Stick, Phil Wingo of Pork Mafia, Alfredo Nogueira of Analogue, Chris Curren of Seven Lions, Dave Ochs of upcoming Maple & Ash, Mitch Cavanah of GT Fish & Oyster, Chrissy Camba of Maddy's Dumpling House and Jonathan Meyer of Freehand. Now each chef was in competition and given a 180 pound heritage hog to make 6 different dishes for the voting crowd. There was a large variety of cooking style like at Cochon 555 and at Heritage BBQ with Hibachi, Korean BBQ, Asador, Braai from Africa, Char Siu, Caja China, Churrasco and Barbacoa.

I tasted many dishes like Feijoada (confit shoulder, roast loin, linguica, black beans, pickled ramps and broth, malagueta salsa), Blood & Ham (blood & rye cake, shaved extrawurst, dill cream cheese, cucumbers), Pork Candy Bar (smoked lard caramel, crispy pig ears, chicharones, dark chocolate and sea salt), Pork Belly Huaraches (crispy corn huarache with mole, cilantro and pickled pig skin), Gnocchi della Spina (potato gnocchi, spinal ragu, pork sugo, parmigiano), Dashi Braised Pork Belly, Asado de Tira Ribs, Grilled Sweatbreads in Chimichurri Rojo and many more. It's like a pork orgy in an array of culinary style- an amazing experience.

There's also great wine, spirits, cocktails (Smoked Manhattans from Breckinridge!), punches and cheese on display to keep your taste buds moving, thirsts quenched. And there's always butchers on hand to cut and portion heritage pork for you to take home- get your creative juices flowing and dress up a prime cut with your favorite recipe or just throw it on the grill.

I would recommend for anyone to save up and grab a ticket when they come to your town in 2016- tickets start around $100 and the VIP experience is the best where you get to enter an hour earlier than everyone else- I was able to taste about 75% of the room before the hour was up! See you at Cochon 555 2016!

Delicious Pork everywhere- even in dessert form!

Delicious Pork everywhere- even in dessert form!

A room full of Chef made Heritage Pork creations- where to start?

A room full of Chef made Heritage Pork creations- where to start?

Best dressed guy (always) fellow Sommelier Philippe Andre of Mo ë t & Chandon

Best dressed guy (always) fellow Sommelier Philippe Andre of Moët & Chandon


Upcoming Event: Cochon 555

An amazing on tour event is coming to Chicago this weekend: Cochon 555, known as a one-of-a-kind traveling culinary competition and tasting event to promote sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs.  

For the competition, local chefs Nathan Sears (The Radler), Nicole Pederson (Found Kitchen), Chris Marchino (Spiaggia), John Manion (La Sirena Clandestina), Thomas Rice & Kurt Guzowski (Tete Charcuterie) will prepare a maximum of six whole hog dishes with hopes to win votes from a crowd of hungry gourmands and judges.  There will also be an assortment of endless wine, beer and spirits.  

Grab your tickets and get ready to head out this Sunday, April 26 to Morgan Manufacturing (401 N Morgan St).  There is also a Chef's Course Dinner at Nico Osteria on Friday and a Large Format Feast (Sold Out) at TETE Charcuterie.  See you there!

Franco Bernabei wines of Sartori di Verona at Spiaggia

Last week I had the pleasure to have dinner with Andrea Sartori of Sartori di Verona, and his winemaker, Franco Bernabei at one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Chicago, Spiaggia.  The marriage of a Tuscan winemaker with Veneto wines and this amazing Tony Mantuano restaurant was too big to miss!  

The Sartori family has been making wine for over 110 years, and started very small with just 37 acres as of 2002.  This quickly grew when they secured over 5000 acres from a partnership with Cantina Colognona di Colli of Soave and Valpolicella.  Later, the family secured the services of Franco Bernabei, a well known winemaker known all over "the boot" as a master,  Needless to say, I was anxious to try the food and wine.

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio

We started with the Ferdi Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir (under $15), both of which were light, acidic and dry, exactly how I enjoy my typical Pinots from the region.  This went well with our Foie Gras, a salty, fatty goose liver, typically served with a sweet fruity sauce (or wine) to counter the saltiness and fat content.  Excellent.

Next we moved onto the Valpolicella reds, starting with a Valpolicella, a light drinking wine blend normally comprised of Corvina and Rondinella varietals.  Quite good, light and fruity with a touch of minerality.  This was followed by Sartori Veronese "Regolo" ($20) 100% Corvina varietal.  This wine goes through an interesting process as it is cold soaked with the grape skins for 15-18 days.  This allows the juice to soak in color, flavor and tannins before fermentation begins.  Later in the year, the wine goes through the Veneto "ripasso" process of passing through the "lees" (fallen yeast) and grape skins of Amarone wine, which still contains much sugar, resulting in a secondary fermentation.  This adds body and complexity.  The wine is named for Regolo, the Patriarch of the Sartori famiglia.  The wine melded well with our mushroom risotto, as the earthiness and minerality mixed with the shrooms, creamy rice and pancetta.

Spiaggia Lamb Chop

Spiaggia Lamb Chop

We then leapt to the Amarone ($43), which is one of Italy's largest wines.  This one is made up Corvina, Rondinella and Oselta varietals which have been laid out on straw mats after harvest to raisinate.  This leaves behind concentrated fruit and sugar, more for the yeast to feast on and create more complexity, body and alcohol.  Always a great treat and fabulous with food, like the lamb chops we had.  Gamey flavors mixed with minerality, herbs, bitterness and fruity body.  A delicious combo.

Franco wanted us to try his Garganega, a white wine he described as having body and complexity, so much so that we could drink after any hearty red, such as an Amarone.  While I do not agree I want to end my night with this (or any) white, I do agree the complexity was there to fully enjoy.  The juice went through an interesting process, as the grapes were hand-picked and dried for over 30 days to reduce water and concentrate sugar and color, then they're cold soaked and macerated on the white skins.  Some of the wine is aged in used barrels and aged "sur lie", then aged 3 months in bottle for great stabilizing.  

A great way to end an amazing evening with amazing people like Franco, Andrea and the rest of the Sartori, Banfi and Spiaggia crew.  Thanks again!

Franco, Me, Lars and Andrea

Franco, Me, Lars and Andrea

Chicago Semifinalists for James Beard Awards

The Semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation Awards 2010 have been announced and the list is littered with Chicago establishments and professionals.  It's always exciting to see how well Chicago does with these awards and to bask in the fame that is given to our culinary scene. 

Now for those of you who don't know, the James Beard Awards are a BIG deal.  They've been called "The Oscars of the food world," by Time magazine.  They are named after one of the biggest names in American culinary history, Mr. James Beard.  Mr. Beard was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1903.  His mother ran a boarding house and began an 81 year culinary journey into American food.  He was dubbed "dean of American cookery," by the New York Times.

Now let's get to our Chicago nominees:

The finalists will be announced on March 22nd at the Palace Cafe in New Orleans leading up to the Media Awards presented May 2nd and the James Beard Foundation Awards given out on May 3rd.  Good luck to all Chicago Semifinalists!