Cochon 555 Comes to NYC

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.


Participating Chefs (L-R): Frank Langello (Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca), Michael Toscano (Perla), Lauren Hirschberg (Craftbar), Seamus Mullen (Tertulia), and David Standridge (Market Table)

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.

What Worked

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.


Why yes, they did butcher an entire pig on the festival floor. The cuts were then individually auctioned off to benefit the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). There was something kinda bad-ass watching Sara Bigelow from The Meathook methodically break down an entire pig.

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


Rib Eye Tartare with Truffle on Pork Cracklin’ from Del Posto – Paired with Lolita. My first bite of the night, and one of the best. The aged rib eye tartare had a sweetness and subtle fruitiness that was complementary to the sour (but not puckering) Lolita. Lolita has a big ripe raspberry nose with a mildly earthy component that worked really well with the truffle. Putting the tartare on a crispy pork cracklin’ was an excellent textural counterpoint to the beef.

Pairing #2: Pork Paella with Matilda


Paella de Cerdo From Tertulia – Paired with Matilda. Yes, this was an intensely salty dish. Somehow though, the intensely salty pork worked with the nice char on the outside of the meat, and was kept in reign when paired with Matilda. The best thing about Matilda is that it features a pleasant Belgian yeast profile while retaining a nice round body and malt component. The maillard-heavy toasted malt flavors worked really well with the charred pork. The pork was quite fatty and decadent, which the effervescent nature of Matilda cleaned up with ease. The almost dirty-rice-esque ‘paella’ was loaded with bits of organ meat giving it a mineral-rich character that worked well with the peppery yeast character in the beer. A touch more dryness in the beer would have made the pairing even better.

Pairing #3: Duck Charcuterie with Sofie


Duck Charcuterie (Torchone de Foie Gras, Rillete, Salami, Smoked Breast)  from Hudson Valley Foie Gras – Paired with Sofie. I have a soft spot for duck, especially duck charcuterie. The products offered up from Hudson Valley Foie Gras were top notch and I especially enjoyed the Foie Gras. Smeared on a simple slice of baguette and washed down with Sofie, the pairing was divine. Sofie, with it’s somewhat austere dryness and prickly carbonation, cut through the fatty foie like a knife, daring you to consume another bite. The earthy and luscious liver worked extremely well with the slightly fruity and somewhat peppery yeast character in the beer. The malt in Sophie is minimal, but has a subtle pilsner malt sweetness that complemented the inherent sweetness in the foie without dominating it.

Cheers to Goose Island

I would be remiss to not thank Goose Island for the complementary media badges they offered my wife and I enabling us to attend the event. Goose Island has taken a lot of flack in the past couple years after they were purchased by AB InBev. I tend to withhold judegment to their beer and their actions. The beers they brought to the event were well made and tasty. Equally as impressive was what appeared to be a genuine want to elevate food and beer pairings to the point that they are on par with wine in the culinary circles.

I would be remiss to not thank Goose Island for the complimentary media badges they offered my wife and myself allowing us to attend the event. Goose Island has taken a lot of flack in the past couple of years following their purchase by AB InBev. I tend to limit my judgment to their beer and their actions in regard to their customers and brewing peers. The beers they brought to the event were well-made and tasty. Equally as impressive was what appeared to be a genuine eagerness to elevate food and beer pairings to the point that they are on par with wine in the culinary circles.

Multi-knife hip holster, one super-enthusiastic dude, and a Colicchio photo bomb all in one photo.

A multi-knife hip-holstered butcher, a dude really digging said butchery, and a Tom Colicchio cameo all in one. Photo by Jessie Quan.

Gratuitous food porn outtakes.

Pork Belly Confit Sandwich

I’m bringing gluttony back. And pork shall be my accomplice. Heady and emboldened by my previous duck confit success, I decided it was time to confit something even more decadent than duck — pork belly. It seems slightly absurd taking a cut of meat that is primarily fat and slowly cooking it in a bath of more fat, but this recipe creates one of the most succulent bites of meat you’ll ever eat. Absurd or not, it is delicious.

Pork belly confit, baby arugula, and heirloom tomato on homemade spent grain sourdough bread. Paired with a side of pickled carrots and Mission Street IPA.

My take on the humble BLT sandwich. Pork belly confit, baby arugula, and heirloom tomato on homemade spent grain sourdough bread. Paired with a side of pickled carrots and Mission Street IPA. The hop notes in the IPA complement the peppery arugula while the bitterness cuts through the fatty pork belly. At $6.99 and six-pack, Mission Street IPA, brewed by Firestone Walker and re-branded by Trader Joe’s, is a great value.

Note: The recipe for pork belly confit was adopted from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s book Charcuterie. This book goes into great detail about confit, rendering fat, and the greater world of charcuterie.

Step 1 – Prepare Your Fat

One of the more difficult requirements of confit is collecting the large amount of fat needed to cook your protein in. While lard is readily available at many markets (look for ‘Manteca’) it tends to be highly processed and hydrogenated. Some butcher shops will sell their own house rendered lard, but it is just as easy to buy some pork fat back and render it yourself. The process is pretty basic. The fat back is diced and then slowly cooked with a bit of water until all of the moisture is cooked out and you’re left with pure melted fat. The liquid is then strained of solids and allowed to solidify. For this recipe I rendered out about 6 pounds of fat back for use in the confit.

Step 2 – Cure Your Pork Belly

Pork belly, salt, herbs, and a dry white wine.

Twenty-four hours before you’re ready to confit your pork belly, the meat is cured. To do this, a mixture of salt and herbs is rubbed over the meat, which is then submerged in a dry white wine and placed in the refrigerator for 24 hours. This infuses the meat with flavor and gives it a preservative quality should you decide to store the meat for future use. I used Jim Drohman’s Pork Belly Confit recipe found in Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s book Charcuterie. You can find an online version of the recipe here.

Step 3 – Confit the Pork Belly

The cubes of pork belly are submerged in a bath of pork fat and slowly cooked.

The cubes of pork belly are submerged in a bath of pork fat and slowly cooked.

After 24 hours of curing in the refrigerator, the pork is removed from the cure and patted dry. The meat is submerged in the melted lard and cooked at 250°F for 2-3 hours until the meat is completely tender. Once cooked, refrigerate the confit so that the fat solidifies and encases the meat. If fully sealed in fat, the meat should stay good for a couple months. When you’re ready to eat the confit, simply melt the fat off and then reheat in a frying pan until warm and crisp. Retain the lard which can be used again for other confits, biscuits, tortillas, eggs, or pretty much any other recipe calling for fat, oil, or shortening.

The pork belly is lightly sauteed in a skillet to crisp up the exterior. It is then sliced and placed on toasted spent grain sourdough bread with butter, tomato, and baby arugula.

The pork belly is lightly sauteed in a skillet to crisp up the exterior. It is then sliced and placed on toasted spent grain sourdough bread with butter, tomato, and baby arugula.

Ramen! (Pork Based)


Scratch Made Ramen

Ramen is a (really) big deal in Japan. The packages of dried noodles and seasoning familiar to most Americans is a staple in college dorm rooms and something I’ll occasionally eat for a quick lunch, but can’t hold a flame to ramen featuring lovingly prepared broth, springy alkaline noodles, and fresh toppings. Both iterations may share a similar heritage, but the differences between the two are night and day.

A few weeks ago I had a delicious bowl of ramen from Ganso in Brooklyn. I hadn’t had good ramen in quite awhile and it inspired me to make my own. I did some research and came up with a plan to execute a delicious bowl of ramen.

The soup base is a modified version of David Chang’s ramen broth from Momofuku Noodle Bar. My version is simila–combining kombu (dried kelp), dried shiitake mushrooms, roasted pork neck bones, and aromatic vegetables (shallot, green onion), while omitting the chicken that Chang uses. The cooking process is staged over a long period and best prepared a day in advance. For those looking to recreate this, you can read about the process here. After cooking, the broth is further seasoned with soy, mirin, a small amount of the pork belly braising liquid, and a splash of rice vinegar.

Nori, Braised Pork Belly, Pickled Shiitake, Ajitsuke Tamago (Marinated Soft Boiled Egg), Green Onion, and Kamaboko (Fish Cake)

Braised Pork Belly
The braised pork belly was created using this recipe. Again, this is best prepared a day in advance in order to allow the pork to marinate in its own braising liquid for a day. This results in a succulent, sweet and salty topping for your soup.

Ajitsuke Tamago (Marinated Soft Boiled Egg)
The eggs were soft boiled (time dependent on egg size and boil vigor) and then left to marinade in a 1:1 combination of soy and sake which was sweetened to taste with sugar. 3-4 hours seems to be a sweet spot to ensure the whites of the eggs are well seasoned without going over-board on saltiness.

Pickled Shiitakes
Also inspired by David Chang, the reconstituted shiitakes were pulled from the stock and then cooked in a pan with a mixture of soy, balsamic vinegar, and mirin as well as a few chunks of sliced ginger. They were then put into a container and left overnight to pickle.

All of the other toppings were bought prepared from an Asian grocery store, sliced, and then used to top the soup.

But, what about the noodles? Frankly, the noodles I used were a disappointment. I went to a well-stocked Chinese grocery store, which unfortunately had a rather disappointing selection of dried ramen noodles. Ideally, you can source fresh alkaline noodles to use in the soup. I am still working on sourcing a good manufactured noodle in NYC. I suppose I could make my own noodles. Maybe someday…


The Final Product – Worth the Effort