South Beach became pig paradise on April 3, when more than 200 porc lovers gathered at The Ritz-Carlton for the eighth year of the Cochon555 Tour. With each city stop, five chefs — all individually assigned a different heritage breed pig — go head-to-head in a downright delicious cookout. Miami was no different, and in this episode of "On Foodable Weekly," we step away from the studio to meet founder Brady Lowe and discuss the origins and the future of the event, as well as chat with the five Miami chefs competing this year and pick their minds on their menus.
Five chefs, five heritage breed pigs, five winemakers, over 36 dishes, and a whole 'lotta hungry mouths to feed. It seems like this event comes with a lot of work on its plate, but Lowe believes it's worth it.
"When you work with heritage porc, you're starting with a pristine product. You don't have to work that hard to really make that product shine, and the great part about having species variation is that you start to taste very unique differences," Lowe said.
What's Cooking? Chefs Tell All
Each chef receives one heritage breed pig — and they have to use all of it, snout to tail. They have seven to 10 days to cook a maximum of six dishes and 90 minutes at the event to impress guests and celebrity judges alike. The winner will represent Miami in the Grand Cochon555, where the qualifying chefs from the 10 cities will fight to be crowned King or Queen of Porc in this feasting finale.
Who was named Prince of Porc in South Beach? Diego Oka of La Mar By Gastón Acurio reigned supreme, using the Large Black heritage breed pig to make his Peruvian dishes come to life. He admitted it was his first time breaking open a 200-pound pig since culinary school, but his seemingly continental yet "100 percent Peruvian" flavors, rich with Asian and African influences, made sure he didn't go home squealing.
Xavier Torres of Drunken Dragon, who was given the Hereford breed, approached his dishes knowing that while people loved porc, they are often intimidated by the pig head. His solution? He familiarized the pig cheeks with a pastrami spice, and sliced it as ham to top his salad. Alex Chang of Vagabond was all about strategy, doing his best to stray away from anything too complex for the guests' palates to figure out and infused Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese influences.
Anthony Le Pape of the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach and his team had a sweet twist, delighting guests with a smoked ham hog ice cream, while Michael Fiorello of Beachcraft decided to cure a whole pig head — tongue, ears, skin, and all — for 72 hours and sliced it to look like deli meat. Watch the video to hear more about their kitchen game plans.
The Piggy Bank
But Cochon555 isn't all fun and games. The purpose of the event is to spread awareness on the use of local, heritage breed pigs and the use of environmentally-conscious ingredients. The tour is benefiting Piggy Bank, a charity that promotes socially-responsible farming and encourages farmers to raise heritage breed pigs by gifting them in exchange for a business plan.
"We're looking at an ecosystem on tour that all it's been doing is creating both supply and demand at a very sexy event where consumers get to come in and eat what they want, drink what they want, but every single layer at Cochon555 is education," Lowe said.