4th Annual Cochon 555 Highlights, Mandarin Oriental, Back Bay, Boston

The fourth annual Cochon 555 was held at the Mandarin Oriental Boston, where chef Jamie Bissonette, from Coppa (BMH Review) and Toro (BMH brunch and dinner visits to Toro), took home the golden pig trophy and title of “Prince of Porc.”

The national event series embarks on a 10-city culinary competition and tasting tour where 50 chefs are selected to prepare a snout-to-tail menu. The 10 winners of each event are flown to Aspen for the final competition, Grand Cochon. Bissonette will now go on to compete against other regional winners at the finale Grand Cochon even at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen in June. This year’s winner was decided by attendees and by a panel of judges including chef Will Gilson of Bridgestreet and Tiffani Faison of Sweet Cheeks.

2012 Boston competing chefs included Jamie Bissonette of Coppa and Toro (BMH reviews of Coppa, and brunch and dinner visits to Toro), Tim Cushman of O Ya (BMH review of O Ya), Barbara Lynch of Menton (BMH review of No. 9, Drink and Sportello) , Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother, and Steve “Nookie” Postal of Fenway Park.

Chef: Jamie Bissionette Pig: Old Spot

Bissonette was inspired by his recent 21 day vacation to Southeast Asia and cites that as his main reason for doing his own renditions of classic Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. Our favorite item that Bissionette prepared was his banh mi, which had coppa, head cheese, ham, kidney pate spread and aioli. This classic Vietnamese sandwich with a twist was lip-smackingly porktastic with every bite. We unabashedly went back for seconds and thirds.

Our second favorite dish was his la lot Vietnamese sausage with the red curry pork skin. The herbacious “la lot” or betel leaves gave lent their lemony-green taste to the sausage. Typically this dish is made with beef in Vietnam, but the pork rendition was also very close to traditional grilled la lot sausage. The red curry pork skin over jasmine rice was homey and comforting. I could have eaten it any time I craved the familiar taste of red curry. He also served up a pig foot rillette and pork belly pho.

Bissonette used Blis fish sauce in his winning dishes. This is a limited edition special fish sauce that is barrel aged for seven months, made by Blis and Red Boat that costs $17.95.

Chef: Barbara Lynch Pig: Large Black

My favorite item Lynch made was her pork pastrami reuben on marble rye with “brain-naise” (above right) It’s the “brain-naise” that did me in. I would willingly smear it on any sandwich or meat going forward. It’s rich and velvety, like a un-set pate on crack.

A close second was her hay cooked ham and ramp biscuits with honey and ricotta (above left). The sweet honey and creamy ricotta paired well with the salty fresh ham. She also made chicken fried head cheese served on a bacon waffle with maple syrup which seemed like her porky take on Roscoe’s chicken and waffles, blood sausage tortellini with spring-dug parsnip puree, hazelnut and onion ring, Chicago-style offal hot dog (above rear) and polish sausage with honey mustard.

Chef Tim Cushman Pig: Hereford

Cushman’s menu presenation was the most interesting and unique of the five chefs competing. His was laser printed onto an actual piece of pig skin. He said it would turn into a chicharron, or fried pork skin, if dropped into hot oil.

Our favorites from Cushman were the ham and fatback sugarcane pork with thai basil, culantro, kinh goi (above right), buta niku spicy backbone stew with jalapeno and kinome (above rear), and his rilletes croquette with dashi braised smoked hock, yuzu kosho avocado (above left). The sugarcane pork was an instant flashback to childhood, only substituting pork for shrimp paste.  On special occasions, our mother would make chao tom, a Vietnamese appetizer consisting of grille shrimp paste wrapped around a small sugarcane skewer.

He also made liver mousse with sesame mostarda, dashi pickle, crab chip, and chicharrón bits, blood sausage with caramelized kimchee, gochuchang suace, shiso tempura,  tea-brined pigtail ballotine with foie gras kabayaki sauce and peppercress, smoked mortadella with wasabi tare, bonito flakes and nori and  banh xeo cone, soy-sake braised belly and jowl, coconut lemongrass sauce. What was surprising was the number of Asian as well as Vietnamese influences used by Cushman here as well.

Chef: Steve “Nookie” Postal Pig: Tamworth

What blew me away at Postal’s station was dessert- pork blood ice cream with coffee, chocolate and “pork crispy treat” that is. You couldn’t really tell that there was pork blood in the coffee-chocolate ice cream or in the “pork crispy treat.” I literally made off like a bandit with a plate of these lovelies to share with my dining companions.

His Boston baked beans with pork belly two ways and brown bread was my other favorite and it was a huge crowd pleaser prior to the opening of the main ballroom. The small square of slow roasted rich decadent pork belly was full of flavor and left me wanting more.

Postal also made head cheese with grain mustard, pickled radish and brioche, pork dumpling with ginger, scallion, soy and Chianking vinegar, carnitas tostadas with cilantro, queso fresco and tomatillo salsa, as well as roast pork with Roxbury Russet butter and sauce Robert.

Chef: Barry Maiden Pig: Large Black

Clearly, Barry Maiden had some clever signage as well. We like that he injects the Hungry Mother personality into all of his displays. There were even little pins like at Chefs for Obama. He plated his five of six dishes on this white rectangular cafeteria tray which made it easier for everyone to make sure they got to try everything.

Our favorite item was Maiden’s porky belly “buttered” biscuit with cracklin’s and Kentucky Worcestershire glaze. It was a little piece of heaven on a biscuit, even though the “butter” was really lard I think. The half-dollar sized biscuit was perfectly flaky and light as air.

He also served pig’s head crouton with shaved heart and bacon grease-wilted greens (above center),  deviled ham tea sandwich terrine with pickled okra and pain de mie, pâté with lard roasted pecans and smoked maple mustard, Lexington-style bbq pulled pork shoulder with grits and bread & butter pickles and loin and fatback pastrami with collard green kraut and “special sauce”

Maiden also made my second favorite dessert of the evening (I guess I can’t say no to ice cream, huh?) lard ice cream, sorghum marshmallow, smoked chocolate, sugared chicharrones. Again, I really could not tell that there was lard in the ice cream. The homemade marshmallow and chocolate sauce really ramped up the dessert a few notches.

I loved how Maiden’s team came with a sense of humor and some fun, whimsical decorations.

In the ballroom, there was a staggering cheese display by Formaggio, oysters from Island Creek, and amazing vegetables by Clover. Other amusements, delectable bites and vendors included:

Joshua Smith from Tico held a Heritage BBQ whole hog family meal after the voting. Can I just mention he seems to be one really friendly and happy guy? There were some very good bites here despite the all the overeating around us. The pulled pork tacos were lovely.

Three time Boston Cochon winner Matt Jennings of Farmstead & La Laiterie (BMH’s review of La Laterie) held a Le Creuset contest where he was serving “3 Beast Beans” and contestants had to guess all five ingredients. The winner won a Le Creuset pot. The ingredients were- beef bone marrow, pork, chicken, beans, and tomato paste.

We noticed the only bacon we saw openly used at Cochon 555 was as table decorations. We stopped by craft brewery Anchor Brew to taste their three best-selling beers. They were serving up entire bottles of Steam Beer, Liberty Ale and Brekle’s Brown. Our favorite was the brown beer, hands down because of the earthy malt taste and hint of citrus.

There was a custom “Perfect Manhattan” Cochon555 Bar with Daniel Hyatt of Alembic featuring five craft American spirits. I went for the version that included Angel’s Envy whiskey because it was the most sweet port-like of the five whiskeys offered and topped it off with lots of Luxardo cherries.

We counted two whole Iberico De Bellota by Fermin that evening. It was delicious to have several slices of a luxurious treat. They even served up their own special version of ribs below. They were tender, juicy and had a pleasant sweet and smoky taste. I could have easily had made a meal of these alone if allowed.

There was a whole Berkshire hog butchery demonstration by Lemay and Sons Beef from Goffstown NH. They are the only federally licensed slaughterhouse in NH.  Brambly Farms, located in Norfolk, only forty-five minutes from Boston, provided the beautiful pig.

To end the night, there were three dessert samples of exclusive chocolate bar flavors from Xocolatl de David, paired with cold-brew Safari Cup coffee. I loved the cold-brew coffee. I keep going back to drink another shot glass several times and will be definitely looking into getting some for personal use.

The chocolates were definitely unique. There were three kinds- Eggs, Ham and Iberico de Bellota. Eggs was a bittersweet chocolate that had a puffed rice kinda of crispy crunchy texture that actually came from Black River caviar. There wasn’t much of a salty briny caviar taste, just more of a popping sensation when you bit into it. Ham, which turned out to be my favorite of the bunch, was also a bittersweet chocolate but with crispy bits of country ham. Iberico de Bellota was basically a bittersweet chocolate that had lard added to it. I couldn’t tell that there was any porky taste at all.

If you couldn’t attend, you can still support heritage breed pigs. New to Boston, Cochon 555 is offering a Chef’s Course which rewards diners in 2012 for supporting heritage agriculture and local food producers.  It’s simple, dine at Coppa, ToroFarmstead & La Laiterie or Harvest Restaurant (or any other participating restaurant in the US) and mention you have the card and spend at least $50 while there. Then before your meal is over, the chef will send out something special for every member of your party, an amuse bouche, a half-sized appetizer or a 2-3 bite-sized tasting portion created to complement your meal and dietary preferences. This one-of-a-kind dining experience can be yours every time you choose to dine at any of the four participating restaurants. As a member, you will also receive exclusive offers from Cochon wineries and discounts with their national partners, including Le Creuset, Murray’s Cheese, and many more to be announced. We’re already looking forward to next year’s Cochon 555.

Disclaimer: We received complimentary tickets to this event and all opinions expressed are our own.

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