Let’s take it back a bit. A good while ago I found out that Cochon555 had Memphis on the tour this year. That went a little like this:
T: Holy Berkshire!
T: Cochon is coming to Memphis!!! This is only the coolest sounding food event that I have ever heard of. 5 pigs 5 chefs and 1 extremely excited T-Rob!!!
Well, here we are, less than a week from the competition, and I’m not sure that everyone has a grip on what’s about to happen at One Commerce Square on Saturday. So instead of me trying to figure out the best way to explain something that I have never actually been to (although my intuition on things like pork festivals is pretty strong), I went to four people that know what they are talking about in Kelly English, a contestant and chef of a place you might have heard of before, Restaurant Iris; Michael Hudman, former lacrosse superstar, and Andy Ticer, the two chefs at a little place called Andrew Michael that are also competing in the event; and Brady Lowe, only the brainchild and head honcho of Chochon555 and the Taste Network. So, here’s how this will go, I’ll ask the questions and some of these guys will answer them up. Pictures from previous Cochon events will set them ambiance (thanks to Brady for letting me use all of them).
I assume that after you read this you will want to get tickets. Go to the Cochon website for info on that.
The Great Cochon Interview
Cochon and Heritage Breed Pork – What’s It All Mean?
Michael and Andy: Bringing awareness to the farmers around the country returning to the roots of food. Sustainability and a good product, that’s what heritage breed farmers promote. We think that they are changing the food culture, making it more about quality than quantity. And Cochon is the granddaddy party to celebrate heritage pork famers.
Brady: I founded Cochon 555 when all of my friends — chefs, winemakers, farmers, were telling me about the huge need to educate the population about heritage pork. As a result, I am so passionate about increasing awareness of the sources that support a more natural, sustainable food system. I think the best way to spread the word is through unique culinary experiences.
It all started from a series of conversations. I met farmers struggling to keep their family businesses alive. I saw restaurants looking to source exceptional ingredients. And I heard from consumers wanting to know where their food comes from and how it has been raised. All of these conversations converged into one idea: the ultimate quest for content and flavor. The Cochon tour is a journey that I knows food lovers will want to join, like touring with your favorite band, watching new artists take the stage to showcase their own riffs on pork, and eating your heart out while the band just plays flavor all night long.
Brady: I would have to say the momentum for the tour and for the cause. Heritage Breed Pigs are so much a part of popular thought these days, as people are discussing sustainable eating in the media and in forums. The tour continues to gain recognization and respect. People are calling me every day to participate, lend a hand, invite us to their town. All this being said, the cause and mission is still as important as ever. We need more chefs to see the value for heritage breed pigs, more consumers to be willing to pay more for it, and more farmers to raise them.
Michael and Andy: Heritage is history. Without history, where would we be? By using a heritage breed, like Mark Newman’s Berkshires, which we use exclusively, we’ve developed a really important relationship that inspires us constantly.
Kelly: If you look at the people raising these pigs, they are the most passionate people in their industry. This is not the most economical or easiest way to get a pig from pasture to plate, but these farmers care about what they do. Same thing with the chefs involved, their restaurants are about way more to them than just a bottom line…to each of us our restaurants mean much more to us than dollars and cents, our restaurants ARE who we are.
Kelly: It is exciting to honor the life of an animal by using every scrap of it. That’s such an overlooked part of cooking, if I roast a chicken and it gets overcooked or didn’t give it my best effort, then I have wasted that life. I take that seriously.
Michael and Andy: When you start with something as beautiful as a whole Berkshire, slung over Mr. Newman’s shoulder coming through our door and wind up with these amazing cuts, with all these different flavors and textures stretched across the prep table, it inspires you. We look over the table and we start asking each other, what about this? or this?
It reminds us of Italy, when we watched our foster family slaughter their pig, the whole family would start to do their job, yelling back and forth to each other different ways to utilize it. They only got the one and it had to last. For them, it was a thing of real beauty, something they respected because it was theirs—they’d raised it, they’d fed it, and now it would feed them. And there are always challenges. Each pig is different. Each one has a few surprises while we fabricate it.
M-Town, The 901, Feb 4, 2012, The Scoop
Kelly: When I was in Atlanta I could not believe the production of the event…oysters, caviar, wine, butchering demos, chicharons in so many places you would think that Willie Wonka dreamt it up. I said to Brady after the event, “If you are celebrating the pig, and you don’t come to Memphis, well then you really aren’t celebrating the pig.” The tour stopping here says so much about where we are right now as a community from restaurants to emphasis on wine to emphasis on sustainability and green living to the way we think about food and eat it…Memphis is a badass place.
Michael and Andy: Since we are born and bred Memphians, this is our home. This city is our heart, and it’s the most supportive group of people in the world. And there is so much freaking talent in this city. There are incredible people doing incredible food here, but lots of times, it feels like the city gets overlooked, that people have almost forgotten that Memphis is an amazing food city. Cochon 555, and Brady Lowe, they see it and bringing this event here is turning a national food spotlight on our town. We love it. We are so excited.
Kelly: Leave your expectations at home, don’t come in with any preconceptions. Things you never thought of with pork will happen. I judged last year in New Orleans and Eric from La Provence did a Pork Baked Alaska, it blew my mind.
Brady: Pork, pork and more pork. It’s five chefs each preparing whole roasted heritage pigs so you should expect to taste ears and trotters. They also should expect amazing cheese, an endless supply of wine, caviar, a fun guess the ingredients challenge from our friends at Le Creuset, a rockin’ Perfect Manhattan bar, a champagne toast from Laurent-Perrier. It’s a walk around event, so we ask people to bring an appetite.
Random Food and Drink Question Lightning Round
Where Do Yall Eat?
Michael and Andy: We love to grill. We eat in Andy’s backyard a lot. For lunch, we eat at Cozy Corner, Gus’s, and Bosses. We do go to Restaurant Iris (but don’t tell Kelly). Felicia Suzanne’s, Interim and Sweetgrass are great options. If it’s local, we eat it.
Kelly: Everyone knows about the burgers at Topps BBQ right? The pasta salad at Bogies Deli is ridiculous. The vegetarian (yes, I said it) udon at Dō is stupid good. The quiche at Beauty Shop is the best brunch item in this hemisphere.
Michael and Andy: Casablanca for sure. Between Mendenhall and Truce. Great little place with awesome schwarmas. We also just got introduced to the best muffalata in Memphis at this place called Jerry’s Sno-Cones on Wells Station.
That wraps up the Great Cochon interview, and hopefully, you now have better understanding of what Cochon555 is, why heritage breed pork is important, and of how cool the guys at Restaurant Iris and Andrew Michael are. All four of these guys have a great passion for what they do, and that is why we are lucky to have them around. See you on February 4!