Anthony Bourdain (God rest his soul) said pork was his favorite vegetable and he is not alone. Few foods humans hawk is more satisfying or profound than a perfectly produced piece of pork. At Cochon 555’s Chicago event, Sunday, March 3, perfect pork was plentiful. Which one would expect from an event dedicated to the small farmers of magnificent porcineage. Before I talk about the people, then, perhaps I should list the real stars of the show, the heritage pigs.
Berkshire, Red Wattle, Tamworth, Duroc, Large Black, Yorkshire, Hampshire, Ossabaw, Old Spot, Mulefoot, Kune Kune, and the amazing, wildly hirsute Mangalitsa.
The chef lineup was equally impressive: Cory Morris, Jake Chappel, Chris Thompson, Brian and Jennifer Jones Enyart, Daniel Espinoza, Rob Levitt, Ashlee Abin, Ce Bain, Vanarin Kuch, and Amber Lancaster. The Somm Smackdown was brilliant: John McDaniel, Rebekah Graham, Jillian Riley, Rebekah Mahru and Amy Lutchen.
There’s not enough internet for me to list everyone, so at the risk of being banned from this event forever, I’ll list the featured pros who made me cry:
Chef: Jake Chappell
Farmer: 1936 Meadowbrook Farm
Mangalitsas are the hairiest pigs you’ll ever see. They look like overweight sheep. But nothing tastes like them. They’re the wagyu beef of pork and tasting even a transparent sliver of this animal cooked by Chappell is breathtaking. It’s like tasting bacon for the first time all over again. Besides the small bites he’d prepared, he also served shaved pork rubbed with rice that quickened the aging process so it tasted like it’d been aged for weeks and it melted in your mouth like oinky cotton candy.
My second favorite pig is an oyster. Aubin served raw oysters with a jalapeno sauce and a dill sauce wrecked my wheelhouse. What a perfect thing to offer at an event so laden with larder–the bacon of the sea. These Maine oysters paired perfectly with a glass of Red Tail Ridge Petillant Naturel, a 2017 sparkling Riesling made in the Fingerlakes region of N.Y. offered by NoMi’s Jillian Riley from the Sommelier Smackdown.
Sommelier: Amy Lutchen
Lutchen was serving Bodega Garzón’s 2016 Albariño and poured a glass right about the time someone else shoved a hunk of double cream cheese from Greg O’Neil of Pastoral Artisan Cheese into my gob. Things happened in my mouth and the cheese and the Champagne got married and there were bells ringing and we were so happy.
Chef: The Entire VIP Section
Restaurant: All of them
Pig: I most certainly did.
As much as I enjoyed all the bourbon and the tequila (shout out to Ken Pritz from Reid Bar who served a great punch and got me drunk) and the scotch and the pork from the main hall, my collection of noble weirdoes couldn’t get out of the VIP section because it was stacked to the eaves with raw oysters, Roka Akor tartare bites, wine, wine, wine, champagne, wine, cheese and salumi and we just stood there with our handy CITI Bank plates and pigged out. As I swooned into a handy couch, properly porked and wonderfully wined out, I recalled Bourdain’s important quote about the joy of the porcine. It kind of sums up the Cochon 555 experience:
“I dream of taking a whole beautiful swine face into my hands. Feeling the shape of it. Smelling its richness. And then shoving as much of it into my mouth as possible.”Anthony Bourdain