Finding a foodie that is into pork is kind of like spotting a pair of skinny jeans in Williamsburg. Both can exist without the other, but when coupled, an easy synergy arises. It’s natural and comfortable. The popular ramblings of foodie gurus like Bourdain and Chang have placed the pig on a pedestal—and spawned more than a handful of pig-related tattoos. In spite of all that, I must admit that I, too, have consumed the pork-flavored Kool-Aid. Case in point, the plethora of pork posts I’ve written over the past year. It’s becoming a bit of a ‘thing’ for me so deciding whether or not to attend the pork-centric Cochon 555 was a no-brainer.
What is Cochon 555?
Cochon 555’s website bills itself as:
A one-of-a-kind traveling culinary competition and tasting event – five chefs, five pigs, five winemakers – to promote sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs.
Promote is the key word and their approach isn’t all that different from what you’d see from a music label promoting the next big thing. Just substitute “rock star” with “rock star chef.” Promoting sustainable farming is a lofty goal, but a bit of a red herring in this case. At the end of the day, this is a for-profit venture with a steep price. This event is really about promoting some kick-ass restaurants and other delicious products (while making a buck) by giving attendees the opportunity to try high-end food and drink and experiment with their own pairings all within a convivial festival format. Appreciating both parts of the equation sets the table for a good time.
Walking into the space, there was an energy in the air. You could tell that people were excited to be there. While the floor was very crowded, there was a precious handful of standing tables and small, out-of-the-way niches where you could stow away and focus on the star of the event. The restaurants on display were well-chosen and diverse, offering a spectrum of food and a variety of styles. The flow of the evening was smooth — differing from other festivals by offering a variety of scheduled events throughout the evening, keeping things fresh.
What Didn’t Work
Criticism is an important part of my writing and Cochon 555 left me with a number of critiques. I don’t like to dwell on the negatives, but when people are spending $125 for a general admission ticket ($200 for a VIP ticket), the bar is raised and things should be near flawless.
First off, it was crowded. Fighting your way through a sea of people only to be greeted by another wait to get food was a big letdown. I understand the need for a swanky event to have an equally swanky venue (Cochon 555 NYC was hosted at the Ritz-Carlton). Perhaps moving to a less expensive and more spacious venue would improve this without taking anything away from the event’s reputation. Even more disappointing is coming to a table with no food. Service for the majority of restaurants ended early — running out of food at an event of this caliber is unacceptable. Additionally, of the menus posted by each restaurant, I was only able to try about half of the dishes listed.
The majority of the pork dishes I tasted left me, quite frankly, a bit underwhelmed. The number of outrageously salty dishes was astonishing. Nearly all the pork felt overly fussy, complicated, and intense (and not always in a good way). I understand the urge to migrate towards bold flavors, but much of the food sacrificed nuance in the name of extremity. The pornographic amounts of truffle being thrown about was not only excessive, but felt somewhat desperate. In the end, two of my three favorite bites were swine-free.
What I was Looking For
Criticism aside, coming into this event, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to get out of it. Most of the culinary world (including this event) is enamored with pairing food and wine, and rightfully so. It’s easy. Wine’s typically dry nature, acidity, and tannic content make pairing it with food easy. A bit more challenging, and equally rewarding, is pairing food and beer. I’ve always thought that the diversity within beer style taxonomy offers an amazing spectrum of pairing opportunities. Goose Island’s choice to prominently sponsor a food event that mentions ‘wine’ in it’s tagline (and not beer) seemed a bit idiosyncratic. Talking with their representatives and learning about their goal of promoting beer and food helped resolve this seemingly odd match of brand and event.
Over the course of the evening, I ate and drank in a manner that would cause Elvis to blush. At the end of the night, three pairings stuck in my mind.
Pairing #1: Beef Tartare with Lolita
Pairing #2: Pork Paella with Matilda
Pairing #3: Duck Charcuterie with Sofie
Cheers to Goose Island
Gratuitous food porn outtakes.