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March 8, 2013
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Swine showdown in Vail Sunday

Use as much of the pig as possible. That's the first rule of Cochon 555, taking place at the Four Seasons in Vail on Sunday. And that means EVERYTHING from tail to snout. Five of Colorado's best chefs, including Four Seasons Exec Chef Jason Harrison and Kelly Liken of Restaurant Kelly Liken, will put their best pork forward on Sunday afternoon, feeding 20 tough judges as well as a few hundred attendees. Local chef Bill Greenwood of Beano's Cabin will be the presiding butcher. The winning chef, who is crowned the Prince or Princess of Porc, will compete against other regional winners at the finale Grand Cochon event at the Classic in Aspen on June 16.Each chef got a whole, 150-pound heritage breed pig about a week ago and using that pig and only that pig, they will make up to six dishes. As to what those dishes might be, well, your guess is as good as mine. It's a secret, though Harrison let little hints slip about his offerings. Like there will be brain sausage. And one of the dishes has to cook for 36 hours. "We're doing a lot of fun stuff, a lot of the things we've done are twists on recognizable items," Harrison said. "We are doing pea soup, a classic dish, and things like that, things everyone will recognize but are porkcentric, because they have to be."Harrison called his pig, a male mulefoot pig from Black Cat Organic Farm in Boulder, "sexy.""It's funny because a lot of my guys hadn't seen or really experienced the differences between a regular, mass bred pig and a heritage breed pig," Harrison said. "The differences were so apparent - the fat is this creamy white color. It's fantastic. Normally when you get pigs, they're not necessarily well handled but this was perfect all the way through. The meat has a better texture to it because the feed is different. Throughout it's just a much, much better product."Culinary coupEvent founder Brady Lowe created the event in 2008 to promote sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs. Vail is the third of 10 - and certainly the smallest - stops on the tour, which includes major cities like New York, Chicago, L.A. and more."Within the culinary world, this is a major, major thing for us to host this, especially in a little town like Vail," said Harrison, who has been friends with Lowe for more than a decade.Vail Daily columnist and passionate gastronome Suzanne Hoffman agreed the event is a coup for the Eagle County culinary scene."Cochon is part of a pork-centric culinary trend that's raging across the gastronomic landscape," said Hoffman, who is president of the Vail chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs. "The Italians have been into it for years, but it seems the Americans are only now just catching on to the incredible possibilities of whole-hog cooking. "I believe the Cochon 555 event is new and fresh for our expanding culinary tourism scene," she continued. "I'm always delighted when something new that puts Vail on the national culinary stage comes to town."That being said, Hoffman thinks some local culinary events are pricing out a considerable number of people."Culinary events are getting too expensive for locals to enjoy and that's a real pity since so many of them are part of the behind the scenes world that makes it happen," she said. "Our culinary scene should not be limited to attracting visitors and wealthy locals."Indeed, tickets for this event don't come cheap - $125 for general admission (use the promo code VAILDAILY to get a $20 discount) - but there will be more than just food at the event. Attendees will sip on wines from five small, family-owned wineries, as well as hard cider from Crispin Ciders and special tastings from Kim Wiss of Antica Napa Valley. Samples of five bourbons will be poured: Templeton Rye, Breckenridge Bourbon, High West, Buffalo Trace and Four Roses; in addition to the Perfect Manhattan Bar showcasing Hudson Whiskey, Eagle Rare, Luxardo and Camparo Antica. Cypress Grove Chevre and Anchor Brewing also are teaming up for a special tasting.Included in the evening is a preview of the new Heritage barbecue event where Julian Hampton Smith Jr., of Bol Vail will roll out a family meal - another whole pig cooked barbecue-style immediately preceding the awards. Chat with the chefsThe biggest challenge for the event has been sourcing the main attraction. All of the pigs came from Tender Belly, a distributor in Denver who sources naturally raised and humanely processed pork from small, family-owned farms. While a few of those farms are in Colorado, the majority of the pigs coming into Colorado hail from Iowa, a state Colorado likes to swap lamb for pork with, Lowe said."I would say this is one of the driest counties in the country," Lowe said. "I'm talking about the 400 mile region around it. As far as people growing heritage breed pigs, it's not like it is in the Pacific Northwest or Iowa. This is the hardest place to get pigs on tour. So there's a big opportunity here for family farms to join the conversation. The beacon is the pig in the sky who says 'these chefs want to buy pigs from you, so grow some.' Oh, and I wanted to go skiing as well."After the event, which starts at 4 p.m. for VIP ticket holders and 5 p.m. for general admission, the Fireside Bar, on the main floor in the Four Seasons, will host an after party where additional pork products will be dispensed. Chef Harrison was more than willing to divulge the details: Expect maple bacon popcorn; maple cured bacon poutine wiht brown gravy and Longmont cheese curds; maple bacon doughnuts with cherry bourbon jam; deep fried Twinkies and more. Prices range from $6 to $10 each and there will be cocktail specials as well. The after party is open to the public and starts at 7 p.m."All the chefs will be there to hang out," Harrison said. "It's a chance to really have some fun with the guys that competed."


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 8, 2013 05:56PM Published Mar 8, 2013 05:43PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.