As you may have learned from your Instagram feed, Sunday marked the local tour stop of the seventh annual Cochon 555, a festival dedicated to the glories of wine, bourbon and Heritage pork. This year's installment took place at the Viceroy in Santa Monica, a swankish hotel that suited the competition just fine, not least because of the sealed-up swimming pool underfoot.
Cochon is a competition as well as a pork-intensive party, an event where vases on each table hold crisp rashers of bacon instead of flowers, and it is possible to drink German riesling as well as beer and boozy punch served by men wearing fake mustachios. The "555'' in the festival's name refers to the five chefs, five pigs and five winemakers originally involved in each tour stop.
As you may also have heard, this year's L.A. crown went to chef Walter Manzke of Republique, whose winning dishes included a porky take on a Filipino arroz caldo, a jambon-beurre sandwich made with Rodolphe Le Meuniere's beurre de baratte and Marguerita Manzke's freshly baked buns, and a particularly memorable cubeof sous vide pork belly glazed with reduced broth, topped with black caviar, and plopped onto a smear of potato mousseline.
Manzke competed with Ricardo Zarate (lately of Mo-Chica), Kris Morningstar of Terrine, Tony DiSalvo of Santa Monica’s Cast, and The Church Key's Steven Fretz. Each chef presented the judges with a themed menu of dishes made from a single pig, each from one of the heritage breeds it is Cochon's mission to showcase.
Zarate's, playing on Peru's multi-ethnic heritage, included a carapulcra made with trotters and freeze-dried Andean potatoes and a tiradito made with bits of cured head; Morningstar's included kidney toast, German blood noodles and a wide selection of pates. Fretz's Old West-themed menu featured lard-fried doughnuts and a can of pork and beans with foie gras. DiSalvo's entry included biscuits and gravy with green chorizo and a delicate head cheese with romesco sauce and shreds of crisp ear.
After their efforts were judged, the chefs handed out their dishes to the public. Other stages hosted a bourbon punch competition and a display of butchery by Nathan McCall and a gaggle of culinary students.
At each Cochon — the 2015 tour goes to 10 cities — each of the chefs is not only given a pig, but a very particular pig. Manzke was paired with a black Berkshire pig from Cook Pigs LLC, the high-quality ranch based in Julian, where he, Wes Avila, Jessica Koslow and a handful of other local chefs source their pork.
Cook is the same ranch whose pig helped Ray Garcia win last year's L.A. Cochon for the second time. Last year, Garcia (then of Fig; his new restaurant, Broken Spanish, is to open soon downtown) went on to win the grand "King of Porc" title. Manzke moves on to compete at the tour finale, Grand Cochon, in Aspen, Colo., this June.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Gold.