This past weekend Cochon 555 took over the grand ballroom of Boston's luxurious Fairmont Copley Plaza for their sixth stop on a ten city tour with the worthy aim of promoting heritage breed pigs for the sake of biodiversity, not to mention their superior flavor. We previewed the event here. Five local chefs were challenged to dish out pork in all its forms to Boston foodies, who also enjoyed wine pairings and watching the handiwork of two of New England's fastest butchers--Tom Daly of Savenor's and Rick Lemay of Lemay & Sons Beef--in a pig breakdown competition.
Things kicked off with a VIP reception where several vineyard reps ran tasting stations offering disappointingly small pours and the venerable folks from Island Creek Oysters shucked Duxbury mollusks from behind a raw bar made from a very small dinghy. Trays of chips topped with crème fraiche and a generous spoonful of Black River Caviar circulated the room. There was a bit of a wait, but Formaggio Kirchen's expansive cheese bar offered up everything from a ripe gooey Limburger to a hearty and slightly nutty Vermont cow's milk cheese called Tarentaise from Thistle Hill Farm.
When the main floor of the Fairmont's gilded ballroom opened, the pork began to flow. I swung by Mary Dumont's (Harvest) table for their breakfast, lunch & dinner pork combo. First came a bacon, cheddar, and quail egg biscuit. Which, at room temperature, I probably could have passed on. A simple boxed lunch paired a jar of deliciously fresh pulled pork rillette and spicy mustard, with a couple crostinis for scooping, and a light "dinner" of slow cooked pork loin on a small pita with "kimchi" (I don't know if a Korean would have agreed) tangy pickles followed. These two dishes succeeded where many others at Cochon failed. They put aside any kind of pork gimmicks and were designed to be served at, or below, room temperature. Of course, I did pass on "dessert," a crispy stick of bacon wrapped in cotton candy despite it being one of the most talked about dishes at the event.
Lacking a proper kitchen on the floor and having to serve hundreds with sometimes elaborate plates, the chefs at Cochon (and usually other events like it) struggled to pass their food hot. What might be delicious fresh from the stove (or at least a heat lamp), suffers when served lukewarm. This was the biggest issue with Matt Jenning's (Farmstead) ambitious spread of lard toasted waffle poutine with ham terrine and maple gravy; deep fried creton, boudin noir and beans in pork broth; maple chicharron with chorizo pop rocks; and chocolate lard cookie with bacon-maple cream. I would've been happy with something lighter and more focused, but Jennings won for the third year running so he clearly knows how to please the crowd and the judges alike.
Will Gilson's (Garden at the Cellar) joked at his table that there were no gimmicks there. I was happy to see he had a sense of humor over his tasty and rich pork baklava, scotch eggs with browned butter hollandaise; pulled pork pig newtons; pork sliders with watercress, salsa verde, and crispy garlic; and whipped Mexican lardo.
Lydia Shire (Scampo), in true nose to tail fashion pleased adventurous eaters with unconventional servings of dishes like chestnut flour pappardelle with pig and celery ragu; beer battered brains with pickle sauce and homemade pretzel; Mexican spiced pigs feet with margarita doughnuts; and Georgia grits cake with chopped fried pig's heart with peanuts and pork muzzle. Shire must have either shown up late and got last pick of the pork or decided to impose a Top Chef-style challenge on herself. All I can say is she had the crowd lined up across the ballroom.
I spent a lot of time hovering around Barry Maiden's (Hungry Mother) table snacking on pecan and bacon sandies with chocolate--the bacon provided just a touch of saltiness to counter the sweetness of the cookie in that classic American combination of flavors. Their plate featured freshly carved cola-glazed smoked ham on top of collard green kraut. Topped with spoonfuls of their spicy housemade creole mustard and pickled beets, apples, and fennel, it was a perfect few bites. The pork accouterments--pigs in a blanket, cajun boudin balls, morteau sausage, and blood pudding--were less noteworthy but spiced up the plates with different and less common tastes and pig parts.