It's been a year since Cochon 555 stopped in Miami, where locals, foodies, and industry folks indulged in a night of pork and booze while, among other things, watching a 200-pound pig get inked.
This Sunday, the national tour returns to South Beach with five new chefs, winemakers, and pigs to create dozens of innovative pork-centric dishes and host a bevy of other dinners all weekend.
Tattooing, cooking, and eating a hog larger than the average person might seem bizarre, but founder Brady Lowe says it's for a good cause. The evening, he says, is meant to raise awareness about heritage-breed pigs and sustainable and socially responsible farming.
"I think the food system is broken," he says. "Heritage-breed pigs really jump-start a new idea of conversation or path to look at better lifestyles or better food choices. Every time you buy heritage pork, it comes from local farms. It’s just a fork in the road, and a pretty tasty fork indeed. I think everybody should try it. When they taste it, the flavor is totally different and the way it should be."
That's where Lowe's 18-city pork tour comes in. And this year, the event will be tied to Piggy Bank, Lowe's charitable foundation, which he launched in 2015 to create an open-source agriculture model for family farming.
"I’d been looking for a charity to fully put my energy and the tour behind, and Piggy Bank was a response to a lot of issues I had heard with farmers across the country," he says. "I think Piggy Bank was that opportunity to expose what happens to farmers when they lose their entire farm to a disease or flood or disaster. Who is there to help you? Insurance companies will probably give $10,000 for a show dog but not for your top hog. That’s the problem Piggy Bank solves — it addresses the issue and gets people thinking."
The best way to get people thinking is to engage them with tasty, meaty bites, which Lowe says will be better than ever at Cochon 555 this year. The competing chefs, given five days to break down and cook a 200-plus-pound hog to create six dishes, are Anthony LePape (Ritz-Carlton South Beach), Xavier Torres (Drunken Dragon), Alex Chang (Vagabond), Michael Fiorello (Beachcraft), and Diego Oka (La Mar by Gaston Acurio).
Lowe says one defining factor when choosing chefs is their skill in "whole-hog utilization," a major component of the annual soiree. The Cochon 555 crew reads thousands of menus each year to find the perfect chefs, he says.
"We look for how much whole animal they cook on their menus," he says. "You can tell a lot about utilization by looking at a menu pretty quickly. We also look at menus to see if they are promoting the farm or the breed. People who mention the farm or the breed on the menu are generally pretty proud about sourcing."
Eats will be paired with boutique wines and handcrafted cocktails. The best bite will be up for grabs, and the winner, dubbed "Prince(cess) of Porc," will go on to compete for the national title of "King or Queen of Porc" at Grand Cochon June 18.
There will be pop-ups too, including a ramen bar, a cheese bar, and the return of the butcher shop, whose proceeds will benefit Piggy Bank. See a hog get tatted when Miami Ink artists Darren Brass and Jose Santiago tattoo a heritage pig to be sold for charity.
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Though most chef-prepared dishes won't be revealed until the night of the showdown, Lowe says to expect soy-braised pig head and pastrami-style feet, using pickled Japanese mushroom, Asian pear, and lard dust hoisin; pig face bánh mì with pork liver pâté, smoked mortadella, and pickled carrots; barbecue noodles in XO broth, with bacon, pork steamed dumplings, and pork fat; and for dessert, ham and pineapple, which will be made with bourbon vanilla candied ham, roasted pineapple, hazelnut sponge, smoked ham hock, and ice cream.
"It's the most insane food event you can attend in North America, and it comes to town only once a year," he says. "There is over 1,200 pounds of food for 400 people, cooked by the best chefs, and attended by everyone in the trade."
5 p.m. Sunday, April 3. Tickets cost $130.95; VIP options are available. Visit cochon555.com.