Cochon 555, the cooking competition that hands five restaurants a different heritage breed pig to each compete with, on their own five-course nose-to-tail menus, held its final leg in Los Angeles yesterday, capping off a four-month journey through ten cities and preceding June 16th's Grand Cochon in Aspen. Nine out of ten chefs agree that pork is a miracle meat, citing a versatility that lends itself to vast creativity, a heap of which was on display yesterday at the House of Blues. Standout pork preparations included a bowl of rich ramen with noodles made of slippery pig skin from Ford's Filling Station chef Gavin Lansdale, a khao soi of mixed parts from The Charleston's Jet Tila, and crisp croquetas of head meat from The Bazaar's Joshua Whigham. Alas, it would be a different sort of hero that would come to rule the day.
Pork's proven past master, Ray Garcia of Fig, set the place on fire, amping the spirit with a "Cinco de Puerco" theme that found his merry band of pirates dressed as masked luchadores. Serving an assortment of Mexican dishes, including beloved pork butt tamales, blood sausage on cotija grits, and an incredibly clever take on squeeze-bottle tamarindo candy called Pelon Pelo Puerco," mixed with various organs for a sweet that leaked gore through its sieve, Garcia took the day, hard to resist in his costume, and clearly having fun both before and after taking the trophy. The win was decided by the combined picks of both the pro judges and through a people's choice ballot.
While we had the great honor of judging the event alongside some of our own esteemed heroes like Jonathan Gold, Russ Parsons, Carolynn Spence, Ashley James, and Neal Fraser, the public tasting component of Cochon initially kicked off into a bit of a shit-show. Guests struggled to get a bite amid a jostling crush of people, including one well-known "self-taught chef" who allegedly got a little handy when passing by a few of the assembled hemlines.
Though we question whether The House of Blues is really the right venue for an experience so bursting to its seams with stations, revelry, and plastered participants, it fortunately wasn't too long before the same people bitching and moaning were spotted buzzing, smiling, and more importantly, stuffed with a life-endangering number of pork products.
Those who dug in were treated to a fairly raucous good time, including a punch competition won by .ink bartender Josh Goldman, the introduction of three "pop-up" stations, including concepts from Michael Mina and the biggest spread of head cheese we've ever seen from Short Order's Christian Page. Lindy & Grundy, longtime Cochon veterans, held a stirring butchering demo using a guinea hog, as mezcal, bourbon, rye, and Cali brews flowed freely.
An after-party found Octavio Becerra killing it with a refreshingly more direct serving of juicy pork loin, as the crowd used a nearby bomb threat and Sunset street closure as an excuse to stay put and drink the bar dry.
Overall, another inspiring, fun Cochon 555 in L.A. and a most deserving win for Garcia, who will proceed to the Finale to compete against chefs from New York, New Orleans, and Miami, among the ten expected semi-finalists. We know who we'll be rooting for!
Check out our slideshow look back at Cochon 555 at The House of Blues.