On Sunday, April 26 the Cochon US Tour trotted into Chicago for its 7th consecutive appearance. This year, the Chicago winner of the 10-city traveling culinary competition was Chef Nicole Pederson of Found Kitchen in Evanston. Chef Nicole was crowned the Princess of Porc and advances to Snowmass/Aspen for a double-hit weekend in June including Grand Cochon and Heritage Fire.
Found Kitchen is located at 1631 Chicago Avenue in Evanston. According to their website, "Chef Nicole Pederson has a terrific pedigree in food. After culinary school in her hometown of Minneapolis and staging in France, she was at Gramercy Tavern in New York then Lula Café in Chicago, where she honed her passion for all things local. She most recently held the post of Executive Chef at C-House, where she cut her teeth on running a kitchen. Nicole’s Midwestern roots contribute to her focus on pure flavors, simplicity, and seasonality in her cuisine, evident in Found’s produce-centric menu."
Chef Nicole won the event with a rare, but well-known breed of pig called the Hereford raised by Catalpa Grove. This breed originates from the U.S. beginning in the 1920’s and yields rich colored, marbled meat, which provided Chef Nicole ideal flavor for her winning menu of six uniquely created delicious bites. Dishes included Pork Au Feu Et Cou Farci, Pickled Pig Part Pani Puri Poppers, Pork Loin Salad, Pork Belly Huaraches, Eastern Thai Style Rice Sausage and a Smoked Lard Candy Bar.
FYI – if she ever makes that candy bar again, you must try it. That was my favorite ‘bite’ of the entire day. You can get more information about Found Kitchen on their website or by calling (847) 868-8945.
Cochon555 took place this year in a new venue, Morgan Manufacturing, located at 401 North Morgan Street. In my seven years covering Cochon555, this was by far the best venue for the event. Morgan Manufacturing is a new event space, but well worth a visit. You can visit their website or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Throughout the event, a series of activations like the Pop-Up Butcher Shop, with support of Williams-Sonoma, featured a live butchering demonstration with Rob Levitt of Butcher & Larder and raised $1,255 for the supporting culinary students from Kendall College.
Other event highlights included notable tastings from Washington State Wine, St. Francis Winery, Whistle Pig Rye, New Holland Artisan Spirits and Louis Glunz Beer. A series of “pop-up” culinary experiences included the Petit Format Bar presented by Wilsonart® Quartz decorative surfacing, the Mezcal Chupito Bar, the Artisan Cheese Bar from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, Alemar Cheese Co. and Pastoral Artisan, the Rappahannock Oyster Shelf presented by Pearl Oyster Tavern, the famous TarTare Bar featuring Creekstone Farms prepared by Chef Andrew Zimmerman, the Wines from Rioja Tapas Bar featuring Chef Jason Vincent preparing delicacies from Agromar and BBQ Traditions featuring Erik Freeburg of Bar Toma who prepared a Large Black Pig from Triple S Farms. This notable group of local and national sponsors hosted exceptional experiences from Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Breckenridge Bourbon, Hirsch, Luxardo, Prosciutto di Parma, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Black River Caviar, Visit Houston with guest chef Brandi Key of Punk’s Simple Southern Food, Creminelli and La Brea Bakery.
The oyster bar hosted by the Pearl Tavern deserves special mention. The oysters they were serving were from Rappahannock Oyster Company in Virginia. They served them with pickled bacon and Maitake mushrooms for the event. Pearl's master oyster shucker, Matthew, receives a call every morning between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. from both the East and West coasts. The oysters are then flown in fresh, twice daily to O'Hare (at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.). You won't find better, fresher oysters anywhere in Chicago.
Cochon555 was created in 2009 by Taste Network’s Brady Lowe in response to the lack of consumer education around heritage breeds. Each year, the COCHON US TOUR - a 20-city, premium good food tour, draws from the biggest names in the hospitality industry. The series of hyper-local events support education, awareness and growth of family farms raising heritage breed pigs. Since its launch in 2009, Cochon555 and its programs, such as Chef’s Course, have created a responsive movement nationwide with people who care about local food made by honest people. The tour has invested over 1 million in farms, culinary schools and charities across the country and they are only getting started. For more information about the cause, visit www.cochon555.com or follow the conversation @cochon555 on Twitter.
All photos courtesy of Galdones Photography/COCHON 555