Cochon 555 Wrapup

Nearly a month ago, my husband and I had the privilege of experiencing the porcine insanity of Washington, DC’s Cochon 555 event. With the insanity of work and activities for our three kids, it’s taken me until now to sit down and wrapup my thoughts about the event. Here goes:

Cochon 555 is a traveling, nationwide event combining five heritage-breed pigs, five local chefs and five winemakers to put together a competition to crown the prince or princess of pork. Local winners then travel to the national Cochon event, where a king or queen of pork is crowned. Raising funds for heritage farming, the Cochon events have become showcases of the best in culinary arts in major cities across the country.

DC’s stop on the Cochon 555 tour took place at the Loews Madison hotel downtown. As the home of Cochon chef Louis Goral from on-property restaurant Rural Society Argentine steakhouse, the hotel seemed a fitting location for the event. We arrived a bit early and were greeted with three “welcome cocktails,” all featuring Buffalo Trace Bourbon:  “Five the Hard Way,” a blend of rhubarb, tamarind puree, hard cider and vermouth; “Peaches & Mazuma,” combining blood orange, white peach puree, black tea and pineapple and “Mango Derby Day,” a mint julep riff featuring flavors of vanilla and mango.

Those who had purchased VIP tickets had an hour to check out the first room without the rest of the ticket holders, however it seemed that either the VIP hour was not properly explained to arriving guests or they chose to ignore the instructions and no one was there to enforce the VIP policy. My husband and I noticed a number of non-VIP guests in the room well before VIP hour ended.

Once we were able to enter, we discovered a relatively tiny room that was filled to bursting with Cochon guests, all shoulder-to-shoulder in an attempt to discover the interesting experiences that had been arranged by the event organizers. From smoked Old Fashioned’s to a tiki bar to gourmet cheese sampling, oysters and fresh beef tartare, the “appetizer” portion of the event did not disappoint. But the space chosen for the event did. Unfortunately, the first room (as well as both other rooms) were simply too small for the number of attendees, leading to a feeling of being a sardine as my husband and I squeezed our way through the cramped room to try to see everything.

When we reached the beef tartare station on the opposite side of the room, the MC announced that the main room was about to open, and immediately the crowd began to move towards the doors of the main room. We pretty much completely missed the second room filled with wines, since we wanted to get into the main room as soon as the doors opened.

Once inside, our senses were overwhelmed by the crowd, the urgency and intensity of the prep and serving of the various pork dishes and the sounds and smells all around. In fact, due to the small space and large crowd, we eventually had to duck out for some air before venturing back inside to taste every dish so we could cast our votes. Chefs cooking at the event were Jennifer Carroll of Requin, Anthony Lombardo of The Hamilton, Louis Goral of Rural Society, Jonah Kim of Yona and Marjorie Meek-Bradley of Ripple.

Each chef created as many dishes as they could from their heritage-breed pig. Dishes ranged from soups to hot dogs to barbecue and Asian flavors. Preparations were simple and rustic or intensive and complex. Most of the dishes offered only a bite or two by which to gauge the creativity and skill of the chef.

Though the event organizers explained that there would be plenty of food for all guests, in reality this was not the case. Because of the “free-for-all” crowded atmosphere, there was no organization, no lines and no way to ensure that the more pushy and rowdy guests did not come back for seconds, thirds and more before other guests had a chance to try some of the dishes. There was no clear flow through the room, and my husband and I ended up completely missing dishes from one of the chefs because, by the time we made it to that end of the room through the crowd, all the food had been plated and given out.

All-in-all we enjoyed ourselves because of the nature of the event and the interesting experiences offered by the different brands and chefs (including Anthony Lombardo’s faux food truck and Requin’s elegant table in the back corner of a raised area). However, we saw a lot of room for improvement. With a ticket price of over $100, this event should be far better organized. The VIP hour should be monitored to ensure that those who pay extra for VIP truly receive their money’s worth without non-VIP guests nosing in on the action. For next year’s event in DC, a bigger venue is a must. Bigger rooms for the pre-event festivities, as well as a much bigger room for the main Cochon event would allow event attendees to mingle comfortably and really enjoy and experience each chef’s repertoire rather than feeling rushed and shoehorned into tight spaces. The pre-event cocktail experiences were amazing, but the overwhelming crowd made for a stressful rather than relaxing event.

Would I come back to Cochon 555 next year?  You bet I would.  IF the venue were big enough to accommodate the crowd and the number of tickets sold is limited to the size of the venue.

Did you go to Cochon 555 in DC this year?  What did you think?  Who was your choice for prince or princess of pork?  (Spoiler alert – I picked Jennifer Carroll of Requin.)

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