Two butchers butchered, five chefs created, 22 judges judged & scores of guests gluttonized.
Cochon 555 occupied prime real estate on the meetings level of the Ritz Carlton Denver. It kicked off in mid-afternoon with a VIP reception in a small-ish room with premium wines and appetizers, then moved on to the general admission competition in the ballroom for the competition and finished some four hours later with an après-feast feast, dessert and announcement of the winner.
Until Sunday, when I went to the Denver stop of Cochon 555, a 10-city national tour that promotes heritage pigs, I hardly ever thought of butchering as a spectator sport. I wrote “hardly ever,” which would have been “never” until the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art’s recent “Art Meets Beast,” a happening during which Pete Marczyk and Jimmy Cross of Marczyk Fine Foods butchered a bison in front of what was reported as a fascinated audience.
But back to the cochons at hand, I don’t know what kind of crowd Cochon 555 has been drawing in other cities, but in Denver, there were a lot of chefs, wine folks and others in the food biz — professional courtesy meets professional curiosity, I’m sure. Competitors included some of Colorado’s leading and highest-profile chefs: Frank Bonanno, Jennifer Jasinski, Kelly Liken, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, Alex Seidel. Each chef brought a cadre of assistants, including some important chefs in their own right. Each one was given a heritage breed pig in advance, so the ballroom butchering of two more pigs by Marczyk’s Jimmy Cross and Chris Fuller of Durango’s Sunnyside Meats was just for show.
The horde of judges, of which I was not one, was sequestered in a separate room across the hall. I’m not sure whether they all tasted everything (Bonanno alone made 17 dishes), or whether they somehow divvied up the tasting and compared notes. While they were sitting down while pigging out, my husband and I wandered around the ballroom, sipping wines and standing up while pigging out.
We stopped to watch the paper-plating of the food and to chat with other guests while in lines waiting to taste the wonders. Westword’s Lori Midson was one of the judges and also was able to photograph the elegant and creative presentations (not on paper plates) for the judges. Click here for her report and her mouth-watering images from what she called “The Super Bowl of Swine.”
Frank Bonanno (flagship Mizuna, plus Bones, Green Russell, Luca d’Italia, Lou’s Food Bar and Osteria Marco)
Jennifer Jasinski (Rioja, her first-born eatery, plus Euclid Hall and Bistro Vendôme)
Kelly Liken (Restaurant Kelly Liken, Vail)
Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, Frasca Food & Wine, plus Pizzeria Locale and Caffe, Boulder
Alex Seidel (Fruition and Fruition Farms)
And the Winner is…
…Alex Seidel of Fruition. Since I was not a judge, I didn’t have to sample every single one of the dishes. I picked and chose (which wasn’t easy, I’m here to tell you), and everything I tried was good, better, best. I live in Boulder, where it is easy to eat very well without meat, but this pork-a-thon returned me to my Austrian roots. With the possible exception of sausages, my grandmothers never would have dreamed of any of the dishes prepared for Cochon 555. What revelations all five chefs provided, and I cannot imagine more sublime tastes or greater creativity when the 10 winners go head-to-head at the Grand Cochon competition at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen at 3 p.m. on June 19.
Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news. For address of any restaurant, click on the Zomato icon at the end of the post.