Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cochon 555...turns that butcher loose!!

Over the past 5 years I've been involved with the Cochon555 events that travel around the country. I typically get a bunch of student volunteers to help out at the NYC event and have helped with demos there and in Vail. If you are not familiar with Cochon check it out here  It is an amazing competition that features five area chefs preparing five heritage breed pigs and also five quality vintners but also other great foods and distilled drinks. The chefs create numerous nose to tail menu items and their creativity is totally unleashed.
  Brady Lowe, the grand idea master who came up with this incredible party, is an advocate for locally raised and heritage breed pigs and one of the main goals has been to showcase the farmers as well as the chefs. It really is a truly great time had by all.
 There is one part of the event that trumps all others for me, and that is the butchery demo. Each event features a whole hog being cut up by a star/craft butcher. The butcher typically works with heritage breed pork on a regular basis and gets a chance to show their skill to hundreds of on lookers. This is the cool part... the hog is whole, unsplit and the butcher can cut it any way they like! So how many ways are there to cut a pig? Don't you just cut it into primals etc just like the big companies? Absolutely not. The styles I've seen at these events allow the butcher to go beyond the norm and let their culinary mind take over to create cuts that you just don't see in a supermarket or purveyor's box. The commodity pork we see presented out there doesn't follow seams or leave any fat on cuts. The breakdown doesn't take into account muscle shapes. But at Cochon they TURN THAT BUTCHER LOOSE!! and the resulting work is truly unique to that person.
 Over the years I've broken down many quality local pigs and I typically show my students the standard commercial cuts so they can recognize them when they buy it but we talk a lot about alternative methods. I've also cut pigs at my nephew Austin's after we do a slaughter. In both cases I don't use a band saw and barely use the hand saw.
 The term "artisan" butcher gets kicked around a lot. What makes a butcher artisan? All of the butchers I know or have known over the years were hardworking tradesmen or craftspeople if you must put a label on them. They cut to fill showcases or prepare meats for grind, sausage, charcuterie, salumi etc. They do it with speed and dexterity and not always thinking about "art". But on this Sunday Jan. 25th 2015, Erika Nakamura will be the artist, front and center at Cochon 555.... and I'll be watching with my glass held high!