All Hail the Pig at Cochon555 Heritage BBQ

Five chefs. Five heritage breeds of pig. Five hogs. A whole lot of delicious food. This is Cochon555 Heritage BBQ, a bacon scented rooftop soiree where the best of the best compete to be crowned Chicago BBQ King. Word of advice: come hungry.

Cochon555 hit our fair city recently for its annual Heritage BBQ. While it is a serious culinary competition, they also throw one hell of a party. I was fortunate enough to be invited. This event is definitely a hot ticket, and well worth the price of admission. The proceeds go to support heritage breed pigs and family farms around the country. If you are interested in learning more about that cause, read up about Piggy Bank, the event’s beneficiary.

Any day is good that starts with three kinds of bourbon based punch served up with a help of a turkey baster, am I right? We sipped the “welcome” cocktails while waiting for the VIP admission (one hour before general public). Congregating in the lobby of the modern sleek Loews Hotel Chicago little did we know what delicious bonanza awaited us on the rooftop, surrounded by stunning skyline and lake views. A quick elevator ripe up, and off we went to sample and sip.

Now, by the time the BBQ is hosted, the competition is already over, the judges made their decisions, and the pressure is off. Heritage BBQ was started in 2012 as an effort to bridge the gap between family farms and all categories of BBQ restaurants. Created by Cochon555 Founder Brady Lowe, the event invites existing restaurants into the local and sustainable food conversation taking place nationwide, while simultaneously breaking ground on a new hyper-local, globally-themed, farm-friendly strain of BBQ.

This is a culinary competition featuring five chefs cooking five whole, heritage breed pigs with global flavors and timeless cooking techniques. Each chef is given a 180-200 pound heritage breed pig and tasked to create, prepare and present a “Judge’s Plate” of six dishes scored on utilization, global influences, cooking techniques and overall flavor. This year’s competing chefs included Frank Valdez of Broken English Taco Pub, Chris Pandel of Swift & Sons, Ashlee Aubin of Salero, Won Kim of Kimski, and Chef Andres Padilla of Topolobampo, who took home top honors. But don’t get any ideas, the real stars of this event were the pigs.

I could wax nostalgic about the outstanding lineup of pork dishes from competing chefs, but I have been tasked with a scenic overview of this spectacular event. And what a scene it was! 

Cochon555 event held in Chicago wouldn’t be complete without libations. The choices of hooch were seemingly endless: Glenfiddich Bourbon Barrel Reserve 14 Year Old paired with local bar bites; a Smoked Old Fashioned hand crafted with Breckenridge Bourbon; a Manhattan Bar featuring Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace bourbons; the Don Julio Perfect Margarita Experience; a Tiki Bar presented by Perfect Puree of Napa Valley; and a Heritage Rum Cart. Wines poured included “Five Winemakers” featuring Scholium Project, Lando Wines, Donum Estates, Pax Wine Cellars and My Essential Wine; a Butter Bar with Antica Napa Valley; Lake Sonoma Winery; Azzurro Wine Company and a vermouth tasting by Martinez Lacuesta. Yes, you read correctly, there was in fact a BUTTER BAR. Because who doesn’t love butter?! We swooned over the goat cheese butter for a while.

The guests also enjoyed tables full of food from “BBQ Traditions” where notable chefs prepare dishes from their favorite BBQ culture in the spirit of collective feasting. Beyond the 30 chef-competitor dishes – all told, 1,500 pounds of heritage pork from family farms – guests also noshed on dozens of smoke-kissed, Old and New World barbecue preparations from Korean and African Braai to Asador and regional American styles. Other treats included a bounty of farmhouse cheeses; a mountain of Tomahawk ribeyes from Creekstone Farms served with magnums of Faust Cabernet; and a Pop-up Pie Shop. And that’s not all…

Wait for it… The good folks from The Butcher and Larder took a Berkshire hog to task, butchering it in plain view amid the feasting crowds. The demo lasted quite a while, it is definitely no easy task. Personally, I love the precision of the master butcher. Each movement, each cut full of purpose and respect for the animal. The knives yield many wonderful cuts that are laid out on a butcher’s block table in front of admiring audience. The goals of the demo: to show you where your food comes from, to inspire you to cook with lesser known butcher’s cuts, and to raise money for Piggy Bank.

Launched in 2015 by Cochon555 founder Brady Lowe, Piggy Bank is a pig farming sanctuary. Housing a vast selection of heritage breeds, it provides free genetics and access to shared business plans to emerging family farms. Piggy Bank aims to change the future of food by creating a community in which small farmers can learn about safer, more responsible practices and benefit from the sharing of genetics, livestock, and the very information needed to thrive as small businesses. The Piggy Bank farm, to be located in Missouri, raises heritage breed pigs to be gifted to communities, while building a model of agricultural transparency. Piggy Bank is a nonprofit corporation.

In a shocking twist, surprising no one, I was first in line for the butcher’s cuts. No, really. First in line. I came home with cheeks, bone-in pork belly, three obscure sounding types of chops, and a large soup bone. Delicious pork dinners for a good cause? You know it. First. In. Line. Behind me the crowd formed a line quicker than I could pay for my pork. Gone in the matter of minutes were all the delicious bits and pieces. 

We walked away satiated, if not glossy eyed. The seemingly endless carousel of bites and sips twirling in our minds, favorite flavors jousting for position. The Heritage BBQ is a feast of Roman proportions. It is no holds barred, unashamed celebration of porcine excess. 

Carrots for dinner till Thanksgiving. That is, only after I finish my Berkshire pig butcher’s cuts. The things one has to do in the name of research…

Cochon555 Heritage BBQ was held on the rooftop of Loews Hotel Chicago at 455 N. Park Drive in Streeterville.

The Local Tourist VIP access to the BBQ courtesy of Isabelli Media Relations.

All photos by Gourmet Rambler. 






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