Tag Archives: culinary competition

Cochon555 Returning to Colorado

Vail is one of 10 stops for peripatetic pork competition and tasting event

Cochon555-logoI attended the Denver visit of the first year of the COCHON 555 tour and was blown away by the butchering, the food, the wine and the restaurant biz collegiality for many of the guests were chefs or others in the local hospitality business. (Click here for my report.) Alas, the event has never returned to the Mile High City, but Vail is the third of 10 stops in 2013 — the fifth anniversary of this event that was created to promote sustainable farming in general and heritage-breed pigs in particular.

It takes place at the Four Seasons Vail on Sunday, March 10 and features five chefs, five pigs and five winemakers. The chefs — Alex Seidel of Fruition, Hose Rosenberg of Blackbelly Catering, Jason Harrison of Flame Resturant in the Four Seasons Vail, Kelly Liken of Restaurant Kelly Liken and Lon Symensma of ChoLon — are challenged to prepare a menu from the entirety of one 200-pound family-raised heritage breed of pig, nose-to-tail.Bill Greenwood of Beano’s Cabin is doing the butchering, and Julian Smith of Bol Vail is preparing a “family meal” of barbecue. el

Twenty judges who are described as “culinary luminaries” and 400 guests help decide the winning chef by voting on the “best bite of the day.”. The winner will be crowned the Prince of Porc (or presumably Princess of Porc) and will compete at Grand Cochon event at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen on Sunday, June 16.

New additions in 2013 — some just for VIP level guests — include the launch of a cocktail competition called “Punch Kings” featuring Breckenridge Bourbon, prepared by six local bartenders, plus the new TarTare Bar round out the exclusive VIP hour. All attendees can watch butcher demonstrations, inhale sustainable oysters, taste creative pork dishes from all the chefs, pay a visit to the Manhattan Bar or new Chupito Bar featuring Mezcals, the amazing Cheese Bar, ice-cold brew from Anchor Brewing, pork-spiked desserts and cold-brewed coffee to close out the evening. Tickets are $125 to $150 plus a $10.38 to $14.75  service charge and can be ordered online. The Four Seasons Vail has lodging for those too comatose to go elsewhere!

Panzano Chef Won Cook-Off for a Cause

Elise Wiggins was the winner in a special wine/food pairing competition

Elise Wiggins

One of my recent disappointments is that last week got away from me — too much work, too little time. I had been invited to a terrific-sounding culinary event. Four leading Colorado chefs  went head-to-head in a competition requiring them to pair Italy’s  Allegrini Palazzo della Torre wine with a signature dish. I planned to go. I wanted to go. And in the end, I very reluctantly had to cancel. My loss.

I just learned what I missed as the chefs competed in front of an audience and panel of judges at Mise En Place Cooking School. The judges, made up of food and wine media, members of the trade and winery executives (including Marilisa Allegrini, sixt- generation owner of the Allegrini Winery and owner of a cooking school in Italy selected Elise Wiggins’ confit rabbit with gnocchi as the entrée that paired best with Allegrini Palazzo della Torre.

Generous Allegrini is donating money to each chef’s chosen charity, based on place in this competition:
1st place: Chef Elise Wiggins from Panzano
 $5000 donated Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender equality.
2nd place: Brunella Gualerzi fromil Bistro Italiano, Grand Junction
to Cooking Matters, which empowers families at risk of hunger with the skills to make healthy, affordable meals.
3rd place: Scott Parker from Table 6
$1,000 to  Hope for Haiti, which has been working for more than 20 years to improve the quality of life for Haitian people.
4th place: Tyler Wiard from Elway’s Cherry Creek
$500 to
ProStart, an educational fund for those in the foodservice industry, and Project Angel Heart, which works to ensure those with life-threatening illness receive proper nutrition.

About Allegrini Palazzo della Torre

Here’s the way Allegrini describes itself: “Allegrini is a historic producer of wines from the northern Italian region of Veneto that has garnered international acclaim. Marilisa and Franco Allegrini, owners and active in winery management, are benchmark producers of some of the region’s most famous wines including Amarone, Valpolicella and Soave. Allegrini Palazzo della Torre is created from grapes grown on an estate in Fumane di Valpolicella, just north of Verona in northeastern Italy. The wine is made using an innovative RIPASSO method. 70 percent of the grapes are vinified immediately after harvest. The remaining 30 percent are dried for several months, then added to the fermenting wine. Allegrini Palazzo della Torre is deep ruby red in color, has a wild berry perfume and a flavor of raisins.”

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.

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.