Three weeks (ish) ago, my neighborhood hosted the awesome, annual Fourth of July parade. Since the parade route goes right past our house, and our porch overs a stunning vantage point for the festivities, K and I have had a morning party at our house each year we’ve been here. We get all kinds of friends and family over. The kids are dressed up for the parade and the adults enjoy the company, cocktails, and confections that K puts together. A couple of those adults were Angela and Kelly English, our awesome neighbors from the street over. During our conversation, I came across an amazing story of the culinary arts. And I want to emphasize arts, as that is the only way to describe what I’m about to tell you.
On the Road to Cochon
So, as many of you know, Kelly English (Iris) was the champion (aka Prince of Pork) at the Memphis Cochon 555 competition. That put him in the national finals, which were in Aspen. As we talked about the competition, I asked if he cooked the same items he did in Memphis, and he told me the story about how he came up with a new dish for the event.
Kelly’s chosen pig was a Tamworth, so he did some research on the breed and their history. It turns out that the Tamworth breed was created by Sir Robert Peel at his Drayton Manor Estate at Tamworth, Staffordshire. While there, he bred the Irish Grazer with the local Tamworth pigs, and the Tamworth Pig breed was born. Due to a lack of interbreeding with non-European breeds (cool!), this pig is one of the closest to the old European forest pigs that there is. Another fact about the Tamworth is that it is often called the “bacon pig” due to its large belly that gains mass but not an overwhelming amount of fat.
As Kelly researched Peel, he found that Peel led a pretty extraordinary life. In addition to bringing the Tamworth to the world, he was also the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom,twice.As the Home Secretary, he created the modern concept of the police force in setting up London’s Metropolitan Police Force.
This led to police officers in England being called “bobbies” and officers in Ireland being called “peelers.” Some people theorize that the American slang of calling officers “pigs” came about because Peel was a pig farmer in addition to the founder of the modern police.
Here’s where the artistry really comes into play. Kelly assimilated all of this information about the history of the breed of pig that he was using, conceptualized a dish that would take that history into account, created a dish that would blend history with an excellent flavor combination, and then executed the dish in a competition setting.
What did he make???
Kelly made “Piggy Doughnuts” using confit ribs and neck, leaf lard, blood, and chocolate.
There’s the doughnut on the right, with the rest of his dishes for the contest.
Artist/Chef and Chef/Artist
They don’t call these the culinary arts for anything people. Sure, some of us can cook, but you can really see the art when you start to ask a few questions about a dish. This one little doughnut is the product of years in school studying technique, years in the kitchen building a cooking vocabulary and personal style, as well as the product of a critical mind that can pull together ideas from both within and without the kitchen. The final product is a doughnut that speaks to us on visceral level through taste, texture and all that good stuff and on an intellectual level because of the way it puts the animal that was used into an easy to understand historical context.
Hot damn! It really is amazing what you can learn when you ask.
Next time you see Kelly, ask him why he made dish that was a take on Chinese food. If you’re at Iris, there’s a decent chance that I’ll see you there!
PS. Multiple blog posts on Iris coming out in the near future. Fortune found us there as part of my birthday week, K’s birthday, and my mom’s great Memphis staycation. It will be good.
PPS. Special thanks to Meghan Heimke of Green Line Marketing for helping me track down a photo for the post!