Tag Archives: chef competition

Cochon 555 Chef Roster Announced

Five top Colorado chefs in heritage pork competition.

Logo from 2011, the last time Denver was a stop on the Cochon 555 tour.
Logo from 2011, the last time Denver was a stop on the Cochon 555 tour.

In a recent post, I shared the good news for Denver foodies that Cochon 555, a chef competition created to showcase the wonderful meat that comes from heritage pigs, is returning to Denver on March 9 after a five-year absence. The event features five top local five chefs, five pigs and five wineries to celebrate breed diversity and family farming. Ruben Garcia, executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton Denver, will lead the panel of judges in selecting Denver’s Prince or Princess of Porc, who will go on to  the national finals at the 2014 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this June.

The chefs were selected on the basis of their support of the local food and farming community, raw culinary talent and commitment to whole animal utilization, with extra credit for naming specific heritage breeds and citing specific farms on  their menus.

The Chefs

Each chef must offer six dishes in this, the first nose-to-tail competition. In addition to his or her name in culinary lights, the winner gets a four-day wine experience to Rioja, Spain’s most prominent wine region, so it would seem prophetic for Jasinski to win, but all five chefs are at the top of their game, so it’s no slam dunk for her.

Also at Cochon 555

A highlight of the event is the presentation of butchering as a spectator sport.  Jason Nauert of the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat will butcher a pig for the audience in a pop-up butcher shop; Brian Busker and Toru Watanabe of Matsuhisa Vail will prepare an additional whole pig in a late-night Asian Speakeasy style before dessert and the awards ceremony.

  • A welcome cocktail from Four Roses Bourbon.
  • The Bourbon Bar presented by Breadcrumb by Groupon featuring Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, Breckenridge Bourbon, Hirsch, Templeton Rye and Luxardo.
  • Libations include Crispin Ciders, Wines of Rioja and Cochon Rose.
  • Guests will also have the chance to pair a selection of Goose Island beers with the chef-prepared dishes and food courses offered throughout the evening.
  • TarTare Bar featuring Creekstone Farms and John Little of Harman’s Eat and Drink.
  • An artisan cheese bar with Rogue Creamery and La Brea Bakery.
  • Swine & Sweets signature ‘ice cream social’ desserts featuring Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

Guests will indulge in a literal and figurative pig-out, what with 30 pork dishes to sample and all sorts of other food and beverages. Click here for tickets — $125 for general admission  (5 p.m. entry to the event) and $200 VIP admission (4 p.m. entry and VIP extras).

Cochon 555 Heritage Pork Tour Returns to Denver

Cross-country chef competition for best heritage pork dishes

Logo from 2011, the last time Denver was a stop on the Cochon 555 tour.
Logo from 2011, the last time Denver was a stop on the Cochon 555 tour.

Cochon 555 returns for a 17-city US Tour starting in New York City on January 26 and ending in San Francisco on Sunday, April 27 from 4 to 8 p.m. Among the in-between cities is a return to Denver on March 9, again at the Ritz-Carlton Denver. Click here to read my post about the very first event at the same venue back in 2011. Denver was not a stop in the past two years, but local foodies and pork-aholics are thrilled that it’s back.

The purpose of Chochon 555 is to promote the raising of heritage breeds, and the vehicle is this national series of chef competitions with dishes evaluated by a panel of 20 judges. In each city,  five chefs, five pigs and five winemakers are combined into one Lucullian event. Before the tour has ended, more than 11 tons of heritage pork raised by family farms will be have been served at these of epic events across the country.

The winning chef from each city will will be crowned the “King or Queen of Porc” at the finale called the Grand Cochon during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen in June. The winner of this finale receives bragging rights and a 4-day wine experience to Rioja, Spain’s most prominent wine region.

General admission tickets at $125; VIP tickets are $200 (plus a service fee). Ticket buyers are invited to enter to win a VIP trip to Rioja Wine & Tapas Festival in New York City, a trip to Heritage BBQ in September, or more than $3,000 in prizes including a Smart-Scoop Ice Cream Maker from Breville, a $1000 bottle of Reserve Bourbon from Breckenridge Distillery, a chance to be a Punch Kings Judge and 2 VIP tickets to Cochon 555. Click here to buy tickets.

New Mexico Pastry Chef Won “Food Network” Challenge

Chocolate train takes top honors on television chef competition

Darci Rochaud

Darci Rochau, pastry chef at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa on the Santa Ana Pueblo, north of Albuquerque, recently won first place on the nationally televised  “Food Network Challenge.” Competing against three other teams and assisted by her husband, Greg, she won with“The Transcontinental,” an elaborate five-foot-tall chocolate train looping around a mountaintop that she created in less than eight hours.

"The Transcontinental," a TV prize-winner, too eight hours top construct.

The sculpture was made from more than 100 different pieces of chocolate. It was equipped with illuminating headlights and also puffed smoke out of its engine. Rochau practiced nearly every evening for six weeks before the competition in order to perfect the sculpture so the competition day would go smoothly. It certainly seems that it did.

Good Grilling in Louisville

Seven talented chefs working on seven fantastic outdoor grills to produce summer fare with savoir faire
Mountain High Appliance carries grilling enthusiasts’ dream units — six swank stainless steel outdoor cooking stations and also the Big Green Egg, a ceramic grill and smoker whose provenance is the Far East. On Thursday evening, June 9, Mountain High turned its parking lot into a playing field where seven professional, amateur and student chefs competed in what has become an annual Grill-Off. They were each given an “assistant,” who in reality  was a sales person for that brand. I was one of three judges evaluating what came off their grills. The variety and the quality were amazing, and once again, picking a winner (or two or three) was a challenge.

Mark Morton grilling chicken.

Not only were the dishes varied, but so were the chefs’ credentials. Out of the seven contestants  (I’m counting the Brauns couple as one), there was a chef at one of the finest of Denver’s fine dining restaurants, three culinary arts students including one from the Western Slope (the
far Western Slope, in fact),  an award-winning caterer and a couple who publish a magazine.
The Chefs, The Dishes & The Grills
The winners.
The winners for the top entree were Soto and (honorable mention) Strauch. Best appetizer was Jones’s chicken wings. The People’s Choice winner was Christensen.
Mountain High Appliance, where you can see these outdoor appliances up close and personal, is at 1130 Pine St., Louisville; 303-665-6850. They also have Western Slope locations in Steamboat Springs and Glenwood Springs.

Cochon 555 was a Major Pig-Out, Literally & Figuratively

Two butchers butchered,  five chefs created, 22 judges judged & scores of guests gluttonized.

This year’s logo looks much like last year’s — except for the final number.

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.
Marzcyk’s Jimmy Cross, turning a heritage pig carcass into pork items.
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.
Pretend pigs, that will forever be on the hoof, were light-hearted decorations on several competitors’ tables.
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.”
Catering carts were required to ferry contenders’ presentations to the judges’ chamber.
Frank Bonanno (flagship Mizuna, plus Bones, Green Russell, Luca d’Italia, Lou’s Food Bar and Osteria Marco)
Partial presentation of some of Frank Bonanno’s 17 dishes as prepared for the judges.

Jennifer Jasinski (Rioja, her first-born eatery, plus Euclid Hall and Bistro Vendôme)

Kelly Liken (Restaurant Kelly Liken, Vail)


A smiling Kelly Liken passing out samples of pork and beans.

Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, Frasca Food & Wine, plus Pizzeria Locale and Caffe, Boulder

The Frasca team worked in unhurried but efficient harmony to plate dishes for guests.

Alex Seidel (Fruition and Fruition Farms)

A serve-yourself platter of Alex Seidel’s salumi.

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.

Cochon 555 Coming to Denver

Top Colorado chefs competing in cook-off featuring pork from heritage pigs & wines to go with them

This year's logo looks like last year's, except for the date.

Area foodies are already salivating over Cochon 555, a national 10-city “eporkurean” tour in Denver next weekend. Five top Colorado chefs — Alex Seidel (Fruition), Kelly Liken (Restaurant Kelly Liken), Frank Bonnano (Luca D’Italia, Osteria Marco and others), Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson (Frasca Food & Wine) and Jennifer Jasinksi (Euclid Hall, Rioja and Bistro Vendome) — compete in a nose-to-tail cooking match-up — the carcasses, not the competitors, being nose to tail of course.

The chefs won’t be doing their own butchering. Two top local butchers will cut the meat in their own competition that, according to Marczyk Fine Foods’ Barbara Macfarlane, will be equal parts speed/efficiency/yield; knife handling and dexterity of roast tying; presentation of oven-ready retail cuts; and creativity and presentation. One is Jimmy Cross from Marczyk’s, but I don’t know who the other will be. (Note: On March 30, Westword‘s Lori Midson, who will be one of the judges, reported that Chris Fuller of Sunnyside Meats in Durango will be the other contender in the butcher battle.)

Among the expected judges are Mark DeNittis (Il Mondo Vechio), Jorge de la Torre (Johnson & Wales University), Jon Emanuel (Project Angel Heart), Justin Fields (Ritz-Cartlon Denver), Lori Midson (Westword restaurant editor/reporter), Hosea Rosenberg (Top Chef winner and strEATchefs), and Brent Zimmerman (master sommelier, Boulder Wine Merchant). The public will also vote for a people’s choice for the “Prince or Princess of Porc.”

The event brings together five chefs, five pigs and five wine makers to promote sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs. I’m not clear on whether all the pork comes from the same breed or different heritage pigs. It gives local farmers the opportunity to connect with like-minded agriculturalists, renowned chefs and the pork-loving public. The broader goal is to help family
farmers sustain and expand their businesses, to give chefs access to heritage breeds and to encourage breed diversity — and hopefully, humane animal practices.

Cochon 555 in Denver

If you want to watch, learn, sip and taste, plan on being at the Ritz-Carlton Denver this Sunday, April 3, beginning at 3:30 p.m. for VIP ticket holders ($175) and 5 p.m. for general admission ($125). Click here for tickets.  And for a big of a preview, click here for a gallery of previous Cochon 555 events that have already taken place this year in New York, Boston, Washington, Napa Valley, Chicago and Seattle, with Los Angeles, New Orleans and San Francisco to come before the Grand Cochon finale at the Food and Wine Classic at Aspen on June 19, where the Denver winner will compete  against the other regional winners.

What is food without wine? Not much, so small vineyards will also be pouring. General admission ticket holders also sample wines from Domaine Serene, Scholium Project, Elk Cove Vineyards, Failla Wines and Chase Family Cellars. VIP ticket holders start the celebration early with artisan cheeses, caviar and oysters and have the opportunity to enjoy reserve wines from Domaine Serene, Dobbes Family Estate Winery, Elk Cove Vineyards, Chase Family Cellars, Cimarrossa, Chahalem, Ladera Vineyards and K Vintners.

A Bit of Background

Cochon 555 is billed as the country’s only heritage breed pig culinary competition, put on by The Taste Network Founder Brady Lowe  produces other high-end, publc and private events, primarily specialty pairings focused around wine, cheese and cuisine. The company said that it has donated over $30,000 to charity and put over $75,000 in incremental revenue in the hands of farmers.

2010 Taste of Elegance Winning Chefs

Chef competition is the foodiest part of annual Denver International Wine Festival

When I posted a condensed report about my evening of judging the Taste of Elegance, I promised you some more morsels about the always-fantastic chef competition that is the foodiest part of of the annual Denver International Wine Festival. A week before the festival, each of the 10 chefs was given one bottle of white and one bottle of red that had been judged the best of some 450 world wines entered into the wine competition portion of the festival.  Just think of it — the 20 top wines paired with dishes created by 10 of the area’s top chefs, who were given free reign for the dishes they presented at the Taste of Elegance.

Here’s my disclaimer: Paying attention to the winemakers and chefs who brought their entries to the judges’ table, tasting the wines and evaluating the dishes that paired with them, taking notes both for the dishes themselves and for this post and quickly snapping a photo of each is a lot of multi-tasking. I spent three hours looking through my images and trying to decipher my scribbles to match up my notes with the food images and the chefs who presented the dishes.

In the end, I decided to post just one of the two dishes presented by the four honored chefs. Please understand that the captions do not reveal the complexity of the dishes or the combination of flavors. And please, Chefs, if you look at this and see that I’ve messed up, leave a comment or drop me a note, and I’ll fix it. I did my best, honest! Meanwhile, you can check the Denver International Wine Festival’s website and click on “Photos.” The 2009 images are still up, but I’m sure festival organizer Chris Davies, who is also a fine photographer, will post the 2010 images when he has caught up from this big event.

With huge grape clusters hanging from the ceiling, 10 chefs set up for the eager crowd for the sold-out Taste of Elegance chef competition.

Best Chef of 2010

Top honors went to Robert N. Corey of 12 Seasons Personal Chef & Sommelier. In 2009, when he was still with Sandoval’s Kitchen, he was selected as the Most Creative Chef. Wines: Zolo Vino Sol  Torrontes 2010 (Argentina) and Coiled Wines Syrah 2010 (Napa). 

A trio: risotto with apple and peach, seared scallop on plantain chip and crab.

 Most Creative Chef

Leo Harvey, executive chef of the Big Game Restaurant & Lounge, took this coveted honor. The young chef, who turns 28 next week, has international perspective. Even before culinary school (he graduated magna cum laude from Atlanta’s Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts), he grew up overseas. He was born in Japan and lived in South Korea, Germany and the Philippines before moving to the United States. A parent in the military, most likely. Wines: Coyote Canyon Winery Albariño 2009 (Washington State) and Venteux Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Paso Robles, California).

Cherry cola-glazed chicken breast with sumac and caramelized nectarines over Treviso, watercress and Greek olives.


Most Creative Chef, Honorable Mention

Honorable mentions are not made lightly, but Geoffrey Groditski, executive chef of The Fort, impressed the judges for his creativity two ways. Not only were the items skillfully adapted from those he developed for The Fort’s menu, but he showed terrific imagination and a light touch by juxtaposing buffalo tongue and and beef cheeks to create the theme of  “tongue and cheeks.” Wines: Zerba Cellars Mouverde 2007 (Walla Walla, Washington) and Borghese Vineyard Sauignon Blanc 2009 (Long Island, New York).

Braised buffalo tongue on herbed crostini with horseradish and vanilla aioli and ancho chile-infused honey.

 People’s Choice Award

For the second year in a row, Jean-Luc Voegele was the People’s Choice Award winner at the Denver International Wine Festival. He is definitely a “chef of the people,” since he also received that honor at last year’s Beaujolais & Beyond competition, which I also judged and posted about here.  Taste of Elegance attendees have sophisticated palates, and there is often a mix-and-match aspect to the judges’ and public’s selection. Voegele took Best Chef honors in 2008, the first year that I judged and wrote about here. I am not including Voegele’s assigned wines, because  they didn’t arrive, and I no longer have the ballot on which I noted the last-minute substitutes. His dishes, again, were first-rate.

Another trio: Air-dried beef wrapped around grisini in layers of Hawaiian salt, bruschetta with Prosciutto and Buena Vista blue cheese and Marcona olives.

 The Party is Over — Until Next Year

Like Cinderella after the ball, the competitors pack up to leave.

Once again, the selection process was not easy, because we were presented with so much culinary talent, creativity in preparation and presentation, and wonderful flavors. This was not an evening for sweets, so I think we were all happy to taste chocolatier Kelly Yepello’s exquisite bonbons as a counterpoint to so many savories. Other chefs invited to compete in the Taste of Elegance were:

And once more, thanks to festival director Chris Davies for again inviting me to be a judge, and also to my fellow judges ‘Top Chef’ Cheftestants (Hosea Rosenberg, Season 5 winner, and Kelly Liken, Season 7 semi-finalist), Austin, Texas-based wine writer Wes Marshall and Thomas Spilman, district president of KeyBank, a festival sponsor. It was a delicious job, and a few of us were fortunate enough to do it, and my “co-workers” were terrific.

Comparing and contrasting judging with being an attendee at this or any other festival. The latter is a wonderful food-and-wine experience as well. Although judges are brought exquisitely presented dishes, we only have the time and the stomach space to take a bite of each dish — same as the attendees. And if we love something, we can’t go back and have another sample, because the plates are whisked away. If there’s something a judge doesn’t care for, there’s no way to avoid it, because in fairness to the chefs, every dish must be tasted. At the end of the evening, we judges were both satiated and satisfied that we had made good selections.