The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen is just days away (June 20-22). As local restaurants shine silver and stock up, Hotel Jerome will be headquarters once again to the Grand Cochon 2014. The event, considered the festival’s grand finale, showcases 10 of the nation’s top chefs. Following a whirlwind, 10-city culinary tour that started in New York City, the finalists have a throw down in Aspen to compete for the Grand Cochon “King or Queen of Porc.” We caught up with founder Brady Lowe to get the lowdown on all things pork.
BRADY LOWE: 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, somehow they were 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 they stripped them of all their natural ability to run free in pasture, dig up woodlands, and grow normal fat and muscle structure which, in turn, 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.
Aspen Peak has been fortunate enough to judge the Grand Cochon in the past. It's quite an undertaking. What's your best advice to judges as they make their rounds?
BL: Don’t eat brunch is a good start. Don’t drink too much the night before, this is the super bowl of all swine events. Of 50 best pig chefs in the country, 10 are cooking their three best bites that got them passage to Aspen for the Classic. Savor every bite, try everything, this is a real honor to have all these great chefs in the same room, working so hard to create the best experience, all so they can have one thing, your vote. Oh yeah, and the crown, too.
The Punch King competition is a newer component to Cochon. How does punch preserve the original bottle service?
BL: One bottle at a time, we are promoting session drinking at home, and more festive beginnings in restaurant settings. Batching up cocktails was not hip a couple years ago, yet punches used to be the thing. Groups used to go out, enjoy large format drinking in social environments, talk, laugh, get rowdy, and love engaging with new fun exciting flavors. Punches allowed all that. Bottle service today is boring! A bottle of vodka, and some splits. I want craft, I want tableside punch bowl service. Punches are like whole pig to me, just another way to utilize a whole bottle, have fun with friends, and give an artist the way to showcase something they love.
How is Cochon best celebrating and preserving the farmer?
BL: We make connections. The team is all about how to create opportunities for farmers to sell more pig to chefs, consumers and via the media. We celebrate them one bite at time, reminding people that real food costs more. That honest flavor takes time, it doesn’t grow in factories, in test tubes, or on feedlots. Real, honest flavor comes from real people who care about the life of the animal, the birth to slaughter, and then sale to plate. We preserve this way of life through depletion, by eating heritage pig we preserve, by hosting events. We show how 10 whole pigs can feed 600 people and be one of the best culinary experiences of the year. More pigs, more events, more chefs, more menus cooking whole pig, more farms in business, more people celebrating.
Best pork dish you've ever tasted at Grand Cochon, and by who?
BL: I would have to say David Varley, the 2010 King of Porc: Jungle Curry was still my shining moment. There has been a lot, but he is still my favorite bite so far. I think he should be up for Food & Wine best new chef any year now. He is one of the best chefs in the country.