On April 22nd, it’s totally okay to pig out. At Cochon555, five chefs will race against the clock to make the tastiest bites possible from one pig each. Their attempts to use the whole animal are both creative and sustainable. We’re not going to tell you who to cheer for, but Thompson Seattle’s very own Chef Derek Simcik will be competing. Wine pairings complement exquisite eats, and a pop-up pie shop with Mike’s Pies is, er, the icing on the cake. Below, Cochon founder Maria Perez gives us the rundown on the event.
Why did you decide to start Cochon555? Give us your origin story.
I started Cochon555 when I noticed there was no active promotion for the eating of heritage breed pigs. I met amazing farmers who raised these animals and they had no idea how to meet chefs. Farmers’ markets were just starting, and the good food movement was not developed—we needed an event to showcase these great food champions. I had an idea to host an event where five chefs each compete with one whole pig from a different farm. Then I noticed there were different breeds, just like different grape varietals, very specific to the grower and region.
What makes this such a challenge?
First off, it’s a magical animal from head to toe. We consume every part. It’s a Renaissance protein. For years, people forgot about their palate, taught to abandon their lust for real flavor. Heritage Pig has been that trigger for me to dig deep into someone’s flavor-stripped caverns and start a fire, reminding them what true pork tastes like. I look at pork in the grocery store and I wonder why it has to have a diaper on it—why is water draining from that meat? Does water equal flavor, or just the opposite? Pigs were raised to feed the masses and we’ve stripped them of their natural ability to run free in pastures, dig up woodlands, and grow normally. Their fat and muscle structure, in fact, hosts the flavor we all crave. From head to toe, this is the meat I feel good eating, especially when the source is real people, taking care of the environment, and supporting a family first—this is what Cochon is all about. Our sponsors—friends and chefs around the country—believe we can continue to build momentum one pig a time. This is why I chose pig, because the whole story is shared by all our supporters. It’s not about just having sponsors who help pave the road for us on tour. It’s about aligning everyone, sharing a common passion, and telling a story. The pig has made this possible.
What should attendees know about these chefs and the competition beforehand?
Heritage Breeds are important to the culinary community because they teach us many valuable lessons. These chefs and butchers are leading a crucial new conversation. First: utilizing the kitchen. Our grandmothers and elders never wasted any part of the animal, and heritage breeds take us back in time to our traditions, sharing in the heritage of those who we respect and recipes we collect. Second, heritage breeds are synonymous with family farms: the farmers are the only ones raising these niche proteins. The farms become caretakers to the environment. One of the goals in today’s kitchen is creativity, and whole heritage pigs are the ultimate creative challenge. Whole pig utilization provides the example of zero waste and profit orientation while providing numerous benefits to local family farms. It’s more flavorful and it just feels good too.
What should more Seattleites know about local agriculture and producers?
For hundreds of years, people have been protecting these heritage breeds from extinction. It’s not easy. These traditional heritage breeds have been trending in the culinary landscape, which is great because they promote local and supports family farming. This is the direction we all need to go if we want safe and healthy food choices in the future, and this is what this food tour is all about. I hope that Cochon555 will come to be known for hospitality and supporting local food producers. To preserve our heritage and nurture culinary traditions, chefs and restaurants need to build. Then, we can rebuild our community around local assets. We can establish real traditions.