Cochon555 Houston was a Pork Fairytale

Sunday was a pork dream, thanks to Cochon555 coming back to Houston. I am so excited that I got to attend this event! It’s been on my radar for years, but just like my silly reasons for not attending Austin Food & Wine Festival, I’ve never pulled the trigger and actually got tickets to go. This year, I was invited as the pork-eating half of Gristle and Gossip (Thanks Renia, for bringing me as your swine and dine date!).

Pork has always been my favorite meat. As a Korean-American, I grew up on various dishes, most starring our favorite piggy friend. But hand me 4 different kinds of locally-raised, heritage breed pork, and I’m in heaven.

I did my due diligence before the event- I researched the purpose of this event, which is to create awareness for the benefit and importance of raising and eating heritage breed pork and opportunities for people and restaurateurs to connect with the ranchers who make them. In this way, we are able to increase their gene pool, which means more varieties of healthy pork for us and more demand for ranchers.

Hughs Manor was a great venue for this event, almost like a mini food-festival. Booths of food and drinks were everywhere you turned, all across the perimeter of the courtyard, and inside the former nightclub. Cross the parking lot aisle into the smaller building, and you’re met with cured meats, cheese for days, and a whole hog butchery station- complete with check-out for you to buy your cuts and take home!

Overall, this was an awesome event, which I wish lasted longer. Going around from booth to booth and carefully tasting and analyzing takes a lot of careful time, and by the time I got to explore and try a few things, some booths were already closing, and certain chefs were out of some of their pork dishes, if not all of them. I was disappointed that I could not try Monica Pope’s (Sparrow) station, or the rest of the dishes at Bobby Matos’s (State of Grace) station, but overall, good event.

Here’s some of my favorite dishes from the night:

Kata Robata’s Shumai, using the shoulder, leg, and fat from the Wattle Litsa pig, with shrimp, ponzu, and garlic chili.

From everyone I met, this seemed to be their favorite- and for a good reason too! I am no stranger to Shumai, whatsoever, but this Shumai had such a deep richness throughout the whole dumpling, that struck me as special. The recognizable combination of pork and shrimp was reminiscent of childhood dishes, adding a nice familiarity to the dish. Upon reading about the Wattle-Litsa pig that was used, it was described as having a fat distribution unlike any other pig, with high quality intramuscular marbling- could that have been any more appropriate for how the dish tasted? There was definitely a distinction in this pig and the characteristics that it is known to portray. Lovely and well-executed dish.

 

Kata Robata’s Japanese Curry, using the shoulder, leg, belly, and ribs of the Wattle-Litsa pig, with onion tomato, and pickled daikon.

I wish I could have snapped a picture of this homey curry, but due to having full, pork-filled hands, this made it difficult to do so...sorry y'all!! But this dish was spectacular! I grew up on Northeastern-Asian curry, so the flavor of this dish threw me back to 28 years of eating. Full-on nostalgia. The only difference with this dish was again, the deep richness of the pork flavor in every single bite. Ever made a soup or dish that lacked depth in flavor? Sometimes I make soups with meat stock that still doesn’t have a well-rounded, full meat flavor. Well this dish’s depth in flavor and umami was what all my failed dishes strived to be. This was probably my favorite, past the shumai…no, seriously! Curry is not hard to make, it has a very distinct and full flavor, but this curry was deep and resounding with every bite, something that is not commonly found or easily achieved.

 

BCN’s Estrella Damm Inedit (beer shooter) with Iberico foram, grapefruit zest, and Manzanilla olive with pancetta, using the Iberico pig.

This was interesting. Served in a little plastic egg-like container, this little shooter had pink-ish foam reaching towards the top, with a pitted green olive and a cube of pancetta. Now, this doesn’t honestly look like anything appetizing, especially with the pink-ish foam that resembles the residue that appears on top when you’re making a meat stock, but this was definitely intriguing. Don’t judge a dish by its…err…shell. I dropped my pancetta and olive into the shooter and shot it. I’m not sure if that was the right way to do it, but I did it anyway. There were two parts to this tasting: the liquid beer part, and then the solid olive and pancetta part. I slurped down the beer until I got to the solid chunks, quickly taking in to chew and hopefully marry with the beer. It was semi-successful. I got mostly beer and foam in the beginning and olive/pancetta in the end, but that short transition between the two was pretty stellar. Did I mention that this beer/pork foam shooter had grapefruit zest on top? That small addition turned out to be the most pivotal part of the dish. The beer and foam was very refreshing going down, due to the zest, but as we reached the salty pancetta and olive, the grapefruit zest brought it all together, using its strong freshness to cut through the extreme saltiness of the olive and pancetta. That small transition was a very profound experience, it’s too bad that it was so small, and if not eaten correctly, or if the zest is forgotten (as I saw many people take the inedit without the zest), it will be just another innovative but groundless dish.

 

Ritual’s Bun Bo Hue, using the Swabian Hall pig, with bone broth, pig skin noodle, rice noodle, porchetta di testa, pork loaf, chiffonade basil, bean sprout.

Okay, to be honest, I didn’t really like this one, but I think I need to talk about it! As a lover of authentic Bun Bo Hue, I was very wary upon trying this dish, but decided to keep an open mind and give it a chance. I tasted a little bit of the broth, pleasantly surprised by the unadulterated flavor of the pork bone broth blended with the flavor of the limes, I’m presuming, but very unpleased by the thick layer of fat that was floating on the top of the soup. This was not just any layer of fat that you experience when you throw ice cubes into your pho bowl at the end of the meal, no, this layer of fat was thick, and the kind that heavily coats your lip, unasked for. I went in for the slab of fatty pork in the soup….oh god….it’s been a long time since I’ve tasted something so salty. The flavor of the pork itself was amazing, but the saltiness of it blocked any further appreciation. The pork loaf was equally disappointing, as it was way too sweet, and too mushy. Overall, disappointed by the inauthentic taste and sloppy elements of the dish, but appreciated the effort and the intention. I still found myself going back for seconds to sip in the lovely pork bone broth of the Swabian Hall.

 

Fluff Bake Bar’s Sweet corn ice cream, covered in white chocolate, topped with a torched strawberry meringue.

Oh lordy lord!!!!!!!! The dark lord of pastry has done it again! This dish was my FAVORITE, past the shumai, past the curry, past everything. This small little cube was one of the best things I’ve had to date. The sweet corn ice cream is covered with white chocolate and hardened, to resemble a cube, then topped with strawberry pearls and strawberrymeringue that the sugar fairy torches right in front of you! Upon first bite, I was rolling around. This was SO good!!!!!!! The sweet corn ice cream bursts with the natural sweetness of fresh picked corn (fresh kernels too, if I'm not mistaken!), the strawberry flavor matches so well, and upon further analysis, the whole dessert resembled a sophisticated and refined version of one of my favorite breakfast cereals, Captain Crunch with Berries! I stood in line to get it again, only to watch her pack up the cooler and walk behind the booth. Sigh, maybe I was only meant to have one bite in order to preserve that special memory forever…

 

Pork blood ice cream melted into Peach Cobbler. The chocolate-y looking blob in the top middle is the ice cream!

Pork blood ice cream melted into Peach Cobbler. The chocolate-y looking blob in the top middle is the ice cream!

State of Grace’s pork blood ice cream

Let me first start off with saying that I did not like the combination of the pork blood ice cream and the peach-bacon cobbler. The cobbler was heavily scented with all your classic cobbler flavors- cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc. When paired with the pork blood ice cream, the flavors just get lost and muddled. However, I did like the pork blood ice cream itself, which is surprising, given that I am not a huge fan of pork blood. This ice cream tasted like……naturally sweet pork blood sausage. Hints of a past savory life, but reborn as a sweet persona...it was taken in a different direction to where it tasted as though this was how this flavor tastes all along. Again, think of a naturally sweet pork blood sausage….can’t think of it? Think of this then…the pork blood sausage ice cream very vaguely bordered the taste of chocolate ice cream. If you’re a chocolate lover, then you may have needed to open your mind just a little to taste that connection, but it’s there! Super innovative and pretty successful!

 

I had an awesome time eating and analyzing every dish I was able to make it to at Cochon555. Am I a believer of locally-raised, small-farm heritage breed pork? You bet your ass I am! Although, I’ve always been a believer of better tasting, happy pigs.

Congrats to Chef Hori of Kata Robata, who, of course, won the Cochon555 competition, and will advance to Grand Cochon in Chicago on October 1st. Hooray!!! But with 2 standout, jaw-to-the-floor dishes, it’s no surprise at all.

Today was a pork fairytale, and Chef Hori was the Prince of Porc. And everyone lived happily ever after. The end.

May the ice cream be ever in you flavor. NOMaste.