[Photos: Jason Little]
On Sunday, the traveling porktacular extravaganza known as Cochon 555 hit Chicago's Four Seasons hotel and drew hundreds wanting to get a taste of heritage hogs produced by five local chefs—Girl & The Goat's Stephanie Izard (returning for a second year), RIA's Danny Grant, Nightwood's Jason Vincent (who cooked up the sixth "extra" pig in 2011), The Trenchermen's Mike Sheerin (also back for a second shot at the title, with help from brother Patrick) and Mexique's Carlos Gaytan.
When the doors finally opened to the general public around 5 p.m., the judges—made up of chefs (Mindy Segal, Kevin Hickey, Doug Sohn, Andrew Zimmerman and Josh Adams, who drove three hours from Peoria), local food media (Eater Chicago, Tasting Table, Grub Street and Check! Please), cheese mongers who came in from different parts of the country and more—had already privately tasted through all the chefs' dishes and case their votes. Now it was up to the public to weigh in.
After all the votes were counted, the hogs literally and figuratively butchered and plenty of wine, booze and beer had been consumed, Cochon 555 founder Brady Lowe took to the stage first to thank the farmers, who he called the real rock stars, then welcomed the five chefs up to the stage. Following a little pomp and raising of glasses, Lowe announced Vincent as the winner of Cochon 555 Chicago. He'll go on to compete against all the other regional winners at the Grand Cochon at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic in June.
The chefs were judged on presentation, usability of the whole hog and flavor. Everyone got super creative and had some outstanding dishes, but ultimately Vincent took the, heh, whole hog with dishes like the crisp liver with powdered eight-year cheddar; the decadent bacon-butterscotch doughnut served with soft scrambled egg and "hollandoink" sauce; a bloody mary on the bone made from tamworth hog blood (the filling), housemade worcestershire, tabasco, vodka-soaked cherries, horseradish, ginger and more; and just for fun, a deep fried pig leg in an apricot barbecue sauce.
More observations from the night:
· Chefs, attendees and more did shots from the pig-shaped ice sculpture.
· RIA sommerlier Dan Pilkey, dressed unusually casually in a T-shirt and jeans (the guy is always looking dapper in a fine suit) was pouring Riesling, growers Champagne, Chianti Classico and more from numerous jeroboams (basically double magnums).
· Carlos Gaytan's young son, who joined him on stage for the reveal of the night's winner, was wearing his very own green chef's coat.
· Once again, Izard, who had the most creative presentation by naming her dishes after fast-food joints, had a constant line at her table. One of her dishes— the smoke bone broth, bone-coffee cream, ham salt and trotter cubes—was served in what could be dubbed a "Steph"bucks cup
· Standout Dishes: Sheerin's chili corndog with powdered cheddar and giardiniera piccailli and mortadella truffles covered in dark chocolate; Grant's pig's head croquette with smoked ham and upland's cheese; Gaytan's pozole sec with epazote aioli and chicharron/chili-lime dusted hominy popcorn; and bacon churros with strawberry-rhubarb marmalade; and Izard's McDonald's pig face "mcmuffin" that came with a tiny sunny-side up egg that oozed when bitten into.
· Jason Vincent made a likeness of Brady Lowe with pig's head, sport coat, jeans and a full tongue hanging out of the jacket pocket. And yes, blood was dripping off onto the carpet below.
· When the chefs came up to the stage to hear the winner, Mike Sheerin busted out some pretty, um, fly breakdancing moves.
· The Butcher & Larder's Rob Levitt led a full butchering session, where he even broke down the bones with a handsaw and set up the cuts on the table in front of him as if they were being displayed in a butcher shop case.
· Nightwood/Trenchermen/Bangers & Lace partner Matt Eisler was rocking a super cool "man of leisure hangs at the Playboy mansion in 1977" look, complete with sunglasses and a turtleneck.
· Daniel Hyatt from San Francisco's The Alembic, headed up the whiskey bar where they made a supremely awesome perfect Manhattan served in little mason jars.
· Just when you thought all the chefs were "sold out" of their hogs, Allium chef (and host chef for the night) Kevin Hickey set up a cafeteria line to dole out street-food inspired dishes from the hog he prepared.
· The after party took things late into the night downstairs at the Four Season's Allium's bar with $5.55 drink specials.