For (somewhat) reasonable fees, you can attend individual events like the Grand Cochon and get your eat on.
Kevin and I went to the Grand Cochon, the last event of the Classic, on Sunday afternoon. Most of the crowds had cleared out, but there were still around 200 (or more? I don't estimate well) people in attendance at the Hotel Jerome. Food & Wine events are great for people who like free things like branded glassware. They are also very good for people who like cooking shows, the Food Network, and Top Chef. They are also good for people who like to drink in the afternoon. Luckily I fall into all of those categories.
First, the drinkies: there were 10 wineries to sample, but I mostly stuck to the beer. Coworker was concerned I missed out on the wine, but it was hot. I believe pig goes better with beer. Also, free branded glassware. Near the end of the event I discovered the bar, where Hendrick's Gin was giving out what as perhaps the best cocktail I have ever had in my life. Serious. Make it for yourself. (recipe down at the bottom).
Now, on to the most important things. The chefs at the Grand Cochon were competing against each other for the title of King of Porc, and they were all worthy contenders. Each chef was given one whole heritage pig to work with, and they all created some incredibly innovative dishes. My favorites:
- Chef Devin Knell of the French Laundry's Pork Belly "pop tart" with lardo. I love pop tarts. I love pork belly. Nuff said.
- Chef David Varley of the Bourbon Steakhouse's ground pork- and mushroom-stuffed pastry pocket. Oh my. Bliss. Mushroomy, earthy, bliss. He later won. A well-earned crowning. He also made a delightful "Porkeo" sandwich cookie with sweetened lard as the filling.
- Chef Matt Steigerwald of the Lincoln Cafe's entire menu - pork belly spring roll with avocado, pork head and shoulder pozole, and roasted pork loin sandwich with stone-ground mustard and house-cured pickles. Some very different international flavors, but all were constantly wonderful. I would bathe in the pozole broth if possible.
- Chef Scott Romano of Charlie Palmer's at the Joule's excellent, smoky-spicy sausage and sweet mustard.
- Chef Jason Barikowski of Olympic Provisions had some really lovely offerings, including a spreadable andouille sausage, pig's foot and tail bean stew and what was quite possibly the best cupcake I have ever had.
"Well, it's a chocolate cupcake. With a little vanilla cream on top...sprinkled with some vanilla sea salt. Oh, and the cupcake batter is made with the BLOOD AND BLUBBER OF THE PIG."
I'm not really a squeamish person, but I am kinda glad I didn't know what was in it initially. Ahem.
An especially nice treat was Chef Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja's "lamb lounge." Her lamb loin with sweet pea, grilled red onion and mint salad, and lamb sausage with tomato jam would make a believer out of anyone who's not a fan of lamb. Both were perfectly cooked, well-balanced and fresh.
Other highlights: a whole pig breakdown by butcher Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats in San Fransisco was...enlightening. In fact, the whole theme of the event - heritage pigs, whole-animal preparations, offal and sustainable farming - was really an inspirational experience. Responsible eating doesn't have to mean giving up on animals whole hog (get it? get it?) but being thoughtful about the animals you do eat - supporting local farms, making an effort to eat fewer processed foods, and returning to the thought process of an earlier generation. If we are to be true stewards of the land, we need to enjoy whole products - even if that means blood in your cupcakes.