This Sunday, Brady Lowe and his traveling porkapalooza, Cochon 555, rolls into the former St. Vibiana's Cathedral in downtown L.A. on a mission to make a party out of everything pig.
The inaugural Los Angeles event, already sold out, raises the bar for dining festivals, linking five heritage pig farmers, five vintners and five local chefs. Each chef is challenged to create a snout-to-tail feast for 400 guests, who will serve as judges alongside a selected panel. The goal is to introduce patrons and chefs to new brands and breeds, but mostly it's a primal and competitive show of butchery, ambitious cooking and lavish feasting.
Expanding on events that Lowe first put on in Atlanta in 2008, this Cochon 555 will feature two butcher demos, a bunch of on-site cooking, several bars and more than just the five wineries. Besides the five pigs, there will be an additional 60 pounds of bacon from La Quercia, an extra kilo of caviar for the VIP room, and cheeses served by Chris Pollan of the Cheese Store of Silver Lake. In addition, this will be the first time a musical component has been added — DJ Lord from Public Enemy and Egon from Stones Throw Records will spin as guests swirl into a swine-induced stupor.
Adding a sacrificial element, butchering demos will take place in front of the main altar. There will also be a freestyle butchering competition and the Bacon Hall of Fame, in which exceptional producers of hormone- and antibiotic-free cured and smoked meat will be showcased. In the VIP area, Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura of Lindy & Grundy will break down a Kume Kume pig, a small, spotted Maori breed native to New Zealand.
Cochon 555 has been a success in cities such as New York and San Francisco and is arriving in L.A. as local gourmands are starting to demand more and better information about the meat they eat.
"People are opening their minds up more," says Joshua Whigham, Cochon competitor and executive chef at the Bazaar. "I can see Angeleno diners changing their palates and really wanting this experience."
Even a few years ago, offal was considered unusual or old-timey by most diners' standards. Nowadays most fine-dining menus would look empty without some offering of innards, cheeks, glands or ears.
"Originally when I was coming up with these ideas it wasn't very palatable, but the intention was to wake people up a little bit," says Cochon competitor Ben Ford of his restaurant Ford's Filling Station, which has ascribed to the idea of working with the entire animal since its opening in 2004. "I got involved in utilizing the whole animal before the recession came. There was a lot of spoon feeding in the beginning."
But as evidenced by the rapid sell-out of Cochon 555's L.A. installation, times have changed.
"Pretty much everyone [of the chefs] that got a pig from us at Cochon [Denver] is now a customer for us," says Erik Duffy of Tender Belly Farms. His Hereford, Spotted Poland and Hampshire pigs will be used by Ben Ford, Tim Goodell (Public Kitchen and Bar) and Chad Colby (Osteria Mozza), respectively. Octavio Becerra of Palate Food & Wine will work with Berkshire from ReRide Ranch, and Whigham will use the Red Wattle breed from Walnut Keep Farm & Vineyard.
All that quality isn't cheap. General admission was $125 a pop and VIP at $175.
"If we want good stuff, we have to pay for it," says Lowe. "In doing so, you're supporting good people who care about where their food comes from."
Where: Vibiana, 214 S. Main St., Los Angeles
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Cost: Sold out