It’s sometimes hard for me to override the gag reflex when eating offal dishes, even when they’re really tasty. And I know I’m not alone in that. So it’s quite a testament to a chef’s talent when you find yourself chowing down multiple organ-meat-containing dishes and telling anyone who will listen, “The pig blood and chocolate mousse was DIVINE!”
That’s what I’m doing after Sunday night’s Cochon 555, a roving pig cook-off party that’s been touring the nation, last stop San Francisco’s Fairmont hotel. Five of the area’s hottest young chefs cooked up an entire heritage pig, each creating multiple dishes that they served to hundreds of people at a big party that included food luminaries and great local wines. The chefs, who hailed from Boulevard, 4505 Meats, Poggio, Perbacco, and A16, had to bring all their own dishware and figure out how to plate the food creatively, in addition to figuring out how to keep pork tasting good after hours of getting cold. Peter McNee of Sausalito’s Poggio, a dark horse who had not even been in the initial lineup of competitors, was the surprise victor.
Using a cast iron pig’s face mold, he created a perfectly balanced sweet-savory mousse made of pig liver and chocolate. One judge exclaimed that it tasted like mole sauce. There were also “trotter tots” (croquettes of pig trotter served with an aioli made from green peas and brain), and a pig head terrine topped by an alcoholic cherry (pictured above left). See McNee’s entire menu here.
Other standouts included Ryan Farr from 4505 Meats (a sausage, hot dog, and chicharrones company that sells to Bay Area restaurants and shops), who delivered some fun riffs on street food. They included cured meats hanging from clothespins (pictured above right), corn dogs, wienies-and-beans in little cardboard takeaway plates, and a pulled pork taco whose shell was one of the pork cracklings that Farr’s gotten famous for around these parts.
The crowd loved Boulevard’s Ravi Kapur’s peanut butter Rice Krispies treats made with pig lard. Nate Appleman of A16 surprised everybody by not doing Italian but rather Japanese. (His inspiration was the fact that he’s in the process of opening an A16 in Tokyo, and is currently training the Japanese chef.) He made pork sushi, among other dishes. Staffan Terje of Perbacco’s milk-braised pork shoulder over stone-ground polenta was a favorite at the judges’ table.
The crowd’s enthusiasm and the masterful, creative preparations of the chefs show that the pork frenzy is hardly dying down. Gird your intestines for some intense pork fat experiences to come.
Photos: Peter McNee’s pig head terrine with grappa-soaked cherry and dandelion green (left); Ryan Farr and his cured bacon.