Going Whole Hog

Memphis to host touring swine, wine, and dine competition.

| November 24, 2011
Newman Farm's Berkshire heritage green pigs
- Newman Farm
Newman Farm's Berkshire heritage green pigs

Cochon 555, a nationally acclaimed celebration of local chefs, porcine delights, and vintners, is coming to Memphis on February 4th. As any foodie will tell you, it will be the biggest culinary event of the year.

At a yet-to-be-determined location in Memphis, five local chefs, five winemakers, and five heritage-breed hogs will come together for one magical day, as each chef uses a whole hog to create a "snout-to-tail" menu. The winner gets a chance to compete in Aspen at the final competition: Grand Cochon.

Chef Kelly English of Restaurant Iris and Chefs Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen will represent Memphis at the competition. Lee Richardson of Ashley's at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Kevin Nashan of the Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis, and Gerard Craft of Niche in St. Louis will round out the list of five chef competitors.

Cochon 555 is such a big deal in the culinary world that Mark Newman of Newman Farm says chefs have knelt down and begged to be included in the competition. At a Cochon 555 event in Portland, Oregon, last year, one overzealous chef started a fight after discovering that the competition had used a nonlocal pig. That's right: Cochon 555 has created such cachet around its farm-to-table concept that blows were exchanged over the origin of a pig.

Newman is a regular supplier of heritage-breed Berkshire pigs to the competition. He's also been one of city's biggest cheerleaders as far as getting Cochon 555 to Memphis.

"I've thrown it out there for a long time," Newman says. "For years I said, 'Hey guys, look at what Memphis is doing.'"

Now Memphis will join nine other cities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, in hosting Cochon 555's 2012 tour.

"For an event like Cochon 555 to come to Memphis, it's tremendous," English says. "It's a compliment to anyone who works in restaurants here, and it underscores the relevance of Memphis as a food city."

The competition, now in its fourth year, arose in direct opposition to the ad campaign that touts pork as "the other white meat." While many commodity pigs are bred to provide ultra-lean meat, heritage breeds (like Newman's Berkshire pigs) yield a darker, much more flavorful meat.

"We call pork 'the other red meat,'" Newman says. "We like to promote it as 'fat is back' because the flavor of the product is in the fat."

It takes a true pork aficionado to recognize the heritage breeds: Gloucestershire Old Spots, Red Wattle, Mule Foot, Large Black, and the wooly Mangalitsa. And it takes a chef with a real understanding of how to use the pig to its fullest potential to take on the challenge.

"I was raised by a grandmother who utilized every part of the pig. These days it's the hot culinary thing within the chef's world," Newman says. "Memphis is all about pork, but it's all about barbecue pork. This is an event that showcases pork in a whole new way."

English, who competed in the Cochon 555 in Atlanta in 2010, agrees.

"We talk about using the whole animal like it's a nouveau thing or a modern thing, but really this is the backbone of eating."

Tickets for the event range from $125 for general admission to $200 for VIP admission. For more information on the event or how to purchase your tickets, visit cochon555.com.

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