I am a meat eater. Many of my friends disagree with me on the subject, and I admit I find myself eating meatless meals more often these days, but when I do eat meat I want flavorful, responsibly reared meat. Why? Simply put, it’s more humane. The animals eat and live more comfortable lives, and their hormone free, antibiotic free, grain free meat is better for us and for the environment than the current livestock practices that predominate.
This isn’t a new concept to me. I wrote a forward to the Parents For Safe Foods Handbook on the subject 25 years ago, but Cochon 555 founder Brady Lowe took that knowledge (and his love of all things piggy – yes, he does have a pet teacup pig at home too) when he created the 10-city tour spotlighting heritage pigs.
In this age of the celebrity chef, Brady knew inviting top chefs (eager to source exceptional ingredients) to compete for Prince or Princess of Porc would entice the public to attend, giving the event the platform needed to educate and promote responsible farms and the restaurants that serve heritage pork while helping to sustain these endangered breeds.
The 20 chef judge panel, of which I was honored to be part, moved from station to station to sample the five competing chef’s nose to tail delicacies. Our votes comprised 49% of the outcome, with the public comprising 51% of the vote. After all, it is your consumer dollar that counts the most, and without it, these breeds may well cease to exist.
First up was The Church Key’s Chef Steven Fretz, who I must say really went all out in presentation and the sheer fun spirit of the event complete with both live (the most adorable Hampshire piglet) and costumed mascots. His pig, the English bred Hampshire from Rainbow Ranch Farms is known for it’s superior fat to meat ratio and the high quality and quantity of meat it yields.
His delectable menu consisted of a Pork Mole Enchilada with Salsa Verde, Queso Fresco, Tomatillo, and Avocado; a Filipino Bao Slider with Pickled Cucumber, Cilantro, and Serrano Chile Lime Aioli; a Rendered Pork Belly Infused Calvados (this tea-totaller unfortunately had to pass on, but Church Key’s Beverage Director, Devon Espinoza won for best punch), a Green Papaya Salad with Vietnamese-style Cured Pork and Nuoc Cham Vinaigrette with Crispy Shallots and Mint Roasted Peanuts, and the most insanely delicious Brown-Butter Glazed Donuts fried in what else but Pork Lard that turned me into little Miss Piggy (I went back for seconds later).
Then it was onto Celebrity Chef Ricardo Zarate and his Red Wattle (a very rare heritage breed that’s prized for its tender meat and exceptional ham) tastebud hopping bites from around the globe. The Peruvian master chef did his interpretations of an Incan Carapulcra De Patita – a Pig Trotters and Chorizo Stew with Ancient Dry Potato, and a Mint Jalapeño Chimichurri; West African Sangrecita – Blood Sausage Crostini, Brie Fondue, Sunny Side Up Quails Egg, and Serrano Sauce; Italian Jamon Del Pais – Peruvian Ham, Lardo Brown Butter, Dijon Mustard Sauce, and Spicy Pickled Cucumber; Chinese Arroz Chaufa – Chifa-Style Peruvian Fried Rice, Smoked Cecina, Baby Scallop, Popped Guinoa, and Ginsaing Bagoong Sauce; a Japanese Tiradito De Cabeza – Head Porketta, King Mushroom Escabeche, Cahrcol Ponen Sauce, and Rocoto Leche De Tigre; and a show-stopping (my vote for best use of foie gras) Iberian Churro Rellenos – Duck Fat Dough, Foie Gras, Crema Relleno, Brown Sugar, and Picco Cranberry.
Defending home turf was CAST’s Chef Tony DiSalvo (the restaurant is in the Viceroy Hotel Santa Monica where the event was held). The interesting rustic presentation was in stark contrast to the elevated sophistication of his culinary prowess with the critically rare Glousestershire Old Spot Pig known for it’s distinctive layer of back fat and high ratio of fat to meat.
Chef DiSalvo’s menu consisted of a Pig Trotter and Duck Confit Terrine with Strawberry Mostarda, Foie Torchon, and Pickled Green Strawberries; Loin Pastrami with Kimchi Thousand Island Dressing, Rye Crostini, Melted Raclette, Miner’s Lettuce, and Riesling Vinaigrette; Coppa di Testa, Romesco Roasted Calcot and Weiser Potato Salad, and Crispy Ear.
Factory farmed meats cost less to produce, but we’re paying for the producers profit margin with our health. Be prepared to pay more for heritage pork. All proceeds from the meat in the pop-up butcher’s shop at the event went to supporting America’s future chefs at Le Cordon Bleu. I bought a lovely pork shoulder and brisket.
Terrine’s Chef Kris Morningstar created his succulent offerings from a Kunekune Pig known for it’s lovely marbled meat and high yield of useable fat. I felt Chef Morningstar made the most comprehensive use of snout to tail cuisine with his Charcuterie Board – Smoked Ham, Rillettes, Andouille, Headcheese, and Terrine de Champagne; Blutundel – Blood Pasta, Boudin Noir, Beets, and Brown Butter-Blasamic; Pork and Beans – Morcilla, Pork Belly, Butter Beans, and Spicy Broth, Smoked Pork Sandwich – Canadian Bacon, Pulled Pork, Sweet Mustard, Dill Pickle, and Pickled Fresno Relish on Hawaian Roll; The “McDowell” – Duck and Pork Cotechino, Egg, Trotter, Foie Torchon, Duck Ham, and Terrine English Muffin; and a fascinating Sanguinaccio – Chocolate Blood Truffle – once I got past the idea of the blood it was scrumpdillicious.
The fact that Republique’s Chef Walter Manzke’s prior engagements robbed him of the full five day prep time to prepare his Large Black heritage pig for the event (my spy tells me he only began cooking late the night before) may well have been responsible for his getting both my vote, and the big win of Prince of Porc. He didn’t have time to over think what he would make which in turn allowed the intense old world flavor of the pork to shine through. That first bite of incredibly tender Pork Belly atop silky Potato Puree, topped of with salty Black River Caviar was nothing short of sublime, and the Pork Cerviche bursting with flavor, but it was the Arroz Caldo, a Filipeno stew with it’s myriad of textures and pureness of flavor that won my vote for best bite of the night. He also served his aspic topped Terrine sliced and presented exquisitely on mirror with edible flowers surrounded in an Art Nueveau design reminding me of romantic dinners in Paris at Maxims years before, and the simplicity of the thinly sliced ham on a Freshly Baked Bun with tangy Normandy Butter taking me back further into flavors of my childhood.
Then there were the elaborate cocktail punches, wine, and Mequite Bar for those who like to imbibe, and anexceptional cheese and bread spread, delectable chocolates, and a pop up butcher shop demonstration – oh, who could forget the very cuddly dancing pig mascot from The Church Key adding vivre to the party. So tell me in the comment section below what you think your favorite bite would have been?