Cochon 555 and Whole-Hog Cookery

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Copyright Grant Kessler
written and compiled by Matt Kirouac
Cochon 555 shines a light on heritage hogs and whole-animal cookery.

Cochon 555

Cochon 555 is a tour de pork that brings together chefs, farmers and communities nationwide

Cochon 555 is a unique and porky way to bring chefs, farmers and communities together all across the nation. After three tours in as many years, Cochon 555 has featured 150-plus restaurants, over 1,500 chefs, 115,482 lbs. of heritage pork, 124 family farms, over 15,000 guests and 33 breeds of pig. Oh, and 215 independent wineries and 33,000 bottles of wine, all in an homage to heritage breed pigs.

Each tour contains 10 cooking events, each one featuring five chefs challenged to cook with a different breed of whole pig to create several dishes. This year’s tour has already featured stops in New York, Memphis, Miami, Washington DC and others, with upcoming stops in Chicago on April 29, Los Angeles on May 6 and San Francisco on May 20.

Cochon 555 will present its finale event, Grand Cochon, at this year’s Aspen Food & Wine Classic, the nation’s premier culinary festival, and will determine the 2012 “King or Queen of Porc.” The event includes more than 30 chef dishes, butcher demos, reserve wines, beer, artisan cocktails, pig-infused desserts and an award ceremony. On June 17 at the Hotel Jerome, winners from each of the 10 stops along the tour will prepare an original “snout-to-tail” menu created from heritage breed pigs. Tickets for Grand Cochon start at $150 per person and are available at or

Events like Cochon have brought the American diner back to the reality of not only where their food comes from but back to the honesty of utilizing the entire animal.

~ Kevin Hickey, Allium, Four Seasons, Chicago

Howard Hanna (The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, Kansas City) is a chef whose history with Cochon 555 bred one of his restaurant’s signature dishes. Hanna participated in Cochon a couple of years ago in Des Moines, where he was dealt a whole Glouchestershire Old Spots pig to work with and cook various dishes. Since the idea of cooking for hundreds of people outside of the restaurant is challenging enough, Hanna decided to make things as easy as possible on himself and do a soup as one of his dishes. Pork bones and trotters lent richness and body to the stock, which he infused with pureed roasted garlic. Fast forward to the opening of The Rieger, when Hanna drew upon his Cochon 555 experience to add a French onion-style soup to the menu. But instead of onions, shredded sous vide pork shoulder, and instead of bread, housemade chicharrones.

Having participated in Cochon Heritage Fire, Gerard Craft (Niche Restaurant and BRASSERIE by niche, St. Louis) says he feels like he lived the event because it was more communal, rather than a competition. “That alone with chefs can spread the gospel,” he says. “But to bring in a hungry crowd of people, and to show them what can be done with the whole beast, well, that becomes a mass baptism.”

Stephanie Izard (Girl & The Goat, Chicago) is a Cochon 555 vet looking to claim her prize at this year’s Chicago stop. She’ll be working with a Berkshire pig from Newman Farm, and she’ll be joined by Chicago chefs Mike Sheerin (The Trenchermen), Carlos Gaytan (Mexique), Danny Grant (Balsan and RIA) and Jason Vincent (Nightwood). Rob Levitt (The Butcher & Larder, Chicago) will serve as a special guest, along with Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia, Chicago) and Kevin Hickey, who will be hosting the event at the Four Seasons (Chicago). Tickets for the Chicago Cochon 555 tour stop are available here.

Hickey proudly endorses Cochon 555 because he feels it brings diners back to the reality of where their food comes from, since most Americans are only exposed to the choicest, most palatable cuts of meat. “Thankfully chefs, farmers and visionaries like Brady Lowe and the like, have broken us of this mentality,” says Hickey. “Selecting only certain cuts and muscles is not only irresponsible, but it has deprived many Americans of the truely [sic] great treats every animal has to offer.”

 Snout-to-tail heritage hog cookery nationwide

Braised pig's tail is one of many ways Jimmy Bannos Jr. goes whole-hog at The Purple Pig

Heritage breed hogs are the focus of Cochon 555, and they can also be found on menus nationwide, as chefs source different breeds from their local farms. At Big Jones (Chicago), Paul Fehribach gets heritage hogs from Gunthorp Farms and Slagel Family Farm.

The chef explains that Gunthorp’s herd is mostly Duroc in lineage and the Slagels do their own breeding with Duroc, Berkshire and Yorkshire. “The Gunthorp’s herd dates to the 18th century on that same farm which is really cool, and I think breeding is important so what the Slagels are doing in developing their herd is important too,” says Fehribach.

He favors Berkshires and Durocs due to their fatty sides. He’s also looking forward to getting black hogs, aka “bacon pigs,” from Moore Family Farm, and American Guinea hogs from Spence Farm. “Since our restaurant serves two meals a day seven days a week, I can’t say I pick this breed to do that and that breed to do this,” he says.

The biggest challenges for working with whole animals at The Greenhouse Tavern (Cleveland), including the two whole hogs they receive per week, the one whole goat and two whole lambs,  is finding a use for everything.

Utilizing the whole animal and minimizing waste is a large part of the philosophy at the Tavern, thus pork skin is made into crispy cracklins tossed with fried hominy, and Ohio lamb neck has been braised and served with gravy inspired by the cooking of chef Brian Goodman’s grandma. Using local whole pigs, cheek meat is dry-cured in a salt, sugar, spice and chile mixture and wet-cured in a combination of crab paste, soy sauce, honey and oil for two days. They are then braised in cola, red wine vinegar, ginger, pork stock and spices, before the whole heads are barbecued to order.

One show-stopper of a plate is whole-braised beef shin, which comes to the table bone-in with cheesy Parker House rolls. Another unique part of the Tavern’s menu is ”the fifth quarter.” This is a rotating special that allows the chefs to use all of the ins and outs of the animal, while doing something different everyday, usually with scraps and offal.

Whole-animal cookery is a prominent aspect of the culinary philosophy at Sidney Street Cafe (St. Louis). While chef/owner Kevin Nashan, a Cochon 555 alum, says the biggest challenges are space issues, he says butchery is not difficult if you have a few basic tools, such as a good boning knife, a saw and patience. He uses everything from leaf lard to blood, and says ears, nose, tongue and tail are great for crispy fried tasty treats. He says hearts are great for things like “dirty quinoa,” and he likes to treat brains like sweetbreads, crisping them up and serving with green goddess dressing.

According to Vie‘s Nathan Sears (Chicago), a chef who routinely holds whole-animal classes, the best thing for people to learn about whole-animal cooking is that most animals are the same. Different parts of the animals need different cooking methods, but a shoulder of a cow should be cooked the same as a shoulder of a pig, he says. The cut of meat he feels is most under-utilized is neck. Sears says the necks perfectly represent the flavor of the animal they are from.

In line with Sears’ classes, Vie is planning a whole-hog week. The restaurant will do a full week of nothing but pork, served family-style. Sears says they will probably go through about eight whole pigs for the event, starting with some cured meats they have already started.

I’ve said it a bazillion times, but a farmer can’t just raise a pork chop. They raise a whole pig. We need to respect that.

~ Rob Levitt, The Butcher & Larder, Chicago

The snout-to-tail philosophy is deeply rooted in many kitchens nowadays. As The Purple Pig (Chicago), Jimmy Bannos Jr. uses unusual parts to give customers a good product. Diners at the Pig can expect to find everything from crispy pig’s ear and braised pig’s tail to fried pig’s feet. He’s even served pork sweetbreads, a delicacy more commonly associated with veal.

At Girl & The Goat, one of the signature dishes is wood oven-roasted pig faceJoncarl Lachman (HB Home Bistro, Chicago) points out that the French and Chinese have been cooking this way for centuries, and admires the philosophy, though he is wary of the pretense that can sometimes come with it.

At Big Jones, Fehribach buys whole pork, lamb and game, and works through all the animal parts, which for him is more about economy than the snout-to-tail philosophy.

One way in which chefs commonly go whole-hog is with suckling pig. Susan Goss (West Town Tavern, Chicago) likes to cook her suckling pig Hawaiian kalua-style; Fehribach harkens back to 18th century recipes to cook his pig; and Jeremy Nolen (Brauhaus Schmitz, Philadelphia) serves his family-style with accompaniments of potatoes, sauerkraut, spaetzle and Brussels sprouts.

At Old Town Social (Chicago), Jared Van Camp uses suckling pigs to make porchetta, which he prepares whenever he can get his hands on one from a local farmer. At The Bristol (Chicago), Chris Pandel has hosted entire suckling pig weeksJosh Galliano (St. Louis) opts to de-bone the pig and leave it whole so as to treat it like a galantine or porchetta, stuffing it with a farce of diced guanciale, spinach, piquillo peppers, herbs, diced liver and ground pork.  Slow-roasted and basted with soy sauce compound butter, Galliano serves the pig simply with black garlic romescu and shaved fennel salad.

Tony Priolo (Piccolo Sogno, Chicago) loves whole-hog cooking so much, his dream would be to open a porchetta shop, serving pork in the traditional whole-hog Roman-style.

Snout-to-tail is not merely a philosophy at The Butcher & Larder, it’s everything. As Chicago’s first locally sourced whole animal butcher shop, featuring custom cutting and charcuterie, Levitt offers all sorts of meats and all parts of the animals. He regularly hosts butchering demonstrations for the public so as to familiarize them with “off cuts” and get them interested in whole-animal cooking and eating. A chief philosophy for him is getting people to cook with meats they haven’t cooked with before, such as lamb shoulder, heart and tongue. He also suggests making pulled pork with pig head and birria-style tacos with lamb neck. The possibilities are endless, he says. And the greatest reward for him is the number of repeat customers. “You can’t hang that on a wall, but it certainly makes you feel like you are making an impact,” he says.



You may also be interested in

  • There’s never a wrong time to slap on a Cochon 555 T-shirt. Check out the merchandise page for shirts, tote bags and onesies for that foodie baby in your life.
  • For coverage of completed stops on this year’s Cochon 555 tour, Broward Palm Beach New Times details Michelle Bernstein’s victory in Miami; The Commercial Appeal announces Kelly English’s victory in Memphis; eat drink RI reports on Jamie Bissonnette’s victory in Boston; and as vividly depicted by Socially Superlative, Marc Forgione took home the prize in New York.
  • On his blog last year, Michael Ruhlman explains how to roast a whole suckling pig with the help of Sunday Dinner Club (Chicago).


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