All Pig, No Punches
The Scene at Cochon 555—Five Pigs, Five Chefs, Five Winemakers—Last Weekend
All photos benjamin garvey
No one shoved a lady, threw any punches, broke a tibia, or got tased or thrown in jail at last weekend's Cochon 555, but that's Seattle for you: polite, even when massive quantities of pork are involved.
The Sunday before, the Portland version of the Dionysian cook-off—"5 CHEFS, 5 PIGS, 5 WINEMAKERS" in 11 cities—took a violent turn, with Cochon 555 organizer Brady Lowe and chef Eric Bechard coming to fisticuffs outside a Chinatown strip club. An allegedly very inebriated Bechard (who was an attendee, not a participant) became irate that the winning pig was sourced from Iowa, and he allegedly pushed Cochon co-organizer (and Lowe's ladyfriend) Carolina Uribe. Then came the fistfight. Then came the cops—at least seven of them, according to the Oregonian—and Bechard was pepper-sprayed, Lowe was tased, and both men were arrested (to be eventually released with charges dropped).
"I'm very Oregon-centric, maybe to a fault," Bechard told Willamette Week in a later moment of near-insight. He also apologized to "everyone involved." WW reported that "most of the witnesses say Bechard started the ruckus. Bechard says Lowe started it."
At Cochon 555 Seattle, Lowe was on crutches, looking happy if harried. Asked about the state of his tibia, he looked less happy; he said it hurt, but that he counted himself somewhat lucky because the fracture was not of the more egregious kind. (He also sustained a concussion in the incident.) Asked about Bechard, he termed him "a ding-dong." As for the whole fracas: "It's ridiculous," Lowe said. "He says he doesn't remember what happened, but he remembers specific things he said."
The room at Bell Harbor International Conference Center was stuffed full of grazillions of people who'd paid $125 a pop to eat more pig than you'd think humanly possible, with each chef preparing at least four courses of pork. (Also astonishing: the amount of biodegradable- cutlery-and-paperware waste piling up in multiple garbage cans, and the long, long lines that $125-payers patiently stood in to get fed.) One man partook of the pork with a rubber pig snout strapped to his forehead. Earth & Ocean's Adam Stevenson made pig-brain ravioli in pig dashi broth—the former tasting of secret pig thoughts, the latter of distilled soul of pork. Excellent sausage with terrifyingly clear, hot jelly (napalm?) was served by Chow Foods' Anthony Hubbard. Among other piggy sweets, Chester Gerl of Matt's in the Market made cayenne-laced mole ice cream with cinnamon chicharrones, and pork-related ice-cream sandwiches by Tamara Murphy (of Elliott Bay Cafe, Burning Beast, and the late, great Brasa) proved so popular that piggish people ate them all up and some people didn't get any.
The winner: Lark's John Sundstrom, crowned the "Prince of Porc" and ready to advance to the finals at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen next month. His insanest creation: "Doped Empanadas with Injected Pork Love," syringed full of pork fat just before delivery to your mouth.
Elsewhere for the eating: two kinds of posole, huge planks of fatty belly, blocks of lard rillettes, a rusty-red belly/liver/blood curry, miniature bacon-and-apple ice-cream cones, candied bacon, little pulled-pork sandwiches, little rafts of puff pastry rescuing pork- passengers, crunchy-crackly pork, soft-slow-cooked pork, pork, pork, PORK. What vegetation was available was generally pushed to the sides of platters, ignored in favor of the pork. Meanwhile, Ryan Farr of San Francisco's 4505 Meats demonstrated how to butcher a cold, pale whole pig in a makeshift operating theater on one side of the room; an appreciative audience watched while continuing to stuff its collective face. (Bechard apparently took issue with this aspect of Cochon 555 as well—the Oregonian reported that a witness to the fistfight said he proclaimed, "Food doesn't come from San Francisco, food comes from Portland.")
As for the cooked pig-victims, one was a Mangalitsa from Washington's Wooly Pigs, two came from Oregon (a Berkshire and a Berkshire/Duroc), and three came from the Midwest (another Berkshire, a Red Wattle, and a Tamworth). The sixth pig was prepared luau-style by special guest chef Gabriel Claycamp, who also brought the Swinery Girls—several women in high heels and short skirts who served pork from boxes strapped under their bosoms, cigarette-girl style. One had a tray of Triscuits with a whipped-cream dispenser full of foamy pork-liver pâté, prompting Claycamp to crow into a microphone, "Come and get a blowjob from the canister!" The rest of the faction from the Swinery—Claycamp's sustainably focused butcher shop in West Seattle—wore T-shirts that read "EVERYBODY WANTS OUR MEAT IN THEIR MOUTH" across the back. (While no physical blows were issued at Cochon 555, Gabriel Claycamp may be counted on for a punch to the brain.) The luau pig, brought out as a grand finale, was swarmed in a frenzy by a crowd that had apparently already forgotten the 27 courses of pork consumed moments before.
Wine-tasting pours were parsimonious, perhaps in the service of keeping the peace. At Cochon 555's closing, a double-decker bus conveyed those who weren't inexorably slipping into a food coma to an afterparty at the W Hotel, which featured more drinks and, unthinkably, lamb. Nothing newsworthy occurred there.
Regarding what she termed "the attack," co-organizer and alleged pushee Uribe said, "It's just the one guy—it definitely doesn't represent Portland." But, she said, "Definitely, Seattle is more about the love." Cochon 555 plans to return to both cities next year.