Only a few years ago, it was hard to find two or three farmers raising heritage pork in any one region, says Robert McKeown, communications director for Cochon555. “Now, it’s about to hit a breaking point. Just as, 15 years ago, no one know what grass-fed beef was, we now have half a dozen, a dozen of these farms in every city.
“And unlike grass-fed beef, heritage pork at-two-and-a-half times the price [of conventional meat] is somewhat affordable,” he adds. “Whereas how many people can afford a $75 rib-eye? And that’s the wholesale price!”
Along with its companion charity, Piggy Bank, Cochon555 is a national tour that emphasizes the agricultural and culinary importance of raising animals sustainably, with a nod to Old World practices. (“Cochon” is French for “pig,” and the three fives refer to chefs, pigs, and winemakers, respectively.) This Sunday, June 4, Magnolia Brewing’s Dave McLean plays host to the San Francisco competition, pitting five chefs against one another to see whose recipe comes out on top. This year, it’s a Dogpatch-heavy affair, with Jordan Keao (’Aina), Tommy Halvorsen (Serpentine), Chandler Diehl (Piccino), and Trevor Ogden (Park Tavern) up against Eric Nyeste (Smokestack at Magnolia Brewery).
That’s right: Magnolia will host and field a competitor. But the brewery isn’t a paid sponsor, and the contest isn’t rigged.
“The judges are in total control over their vote,” McKeown says, “and a lot of people don’t realize you win on the public vote.”
This is all for the main event, where each chef gets a 180-pound hog with which to create a six-dish Judge’s Plate and a chance to compete in the Grand Cochon, held in October in Chicago. There’s also a Somm Smackdown, in which five sommeliers work to pair the ideal wine with whatever pork dish they’re given. (That presents a compelling challenge: Fight palate fatigue? Work with the fat? Match up with the spice levels?) Lastly, there’s a cocktail component called Punch Kings, where a group of bartenders gets tasked with creating the perfect large-format booze experience.
“Punch was chosen because it was the original communal drink,” McKeown says. “It’s the original bottle service.”
It’s also a great way to spread the word about the virtues of nose-to-tail dining and ethical agriculture. Not everyone agrees with this mission, of course. At a Cochon555 event in Chicago in April, PETA bought billboard space and displayed an image of its president, Ingrid Newkirk, hanging like a butchered hog. In the event an animal-rights group does something similar in San Francisco, chances are festival-goers may only briefly pause to notice before diving back into delicious, humanely raised pork and clinking their glasses.
Cochon555, Sunday, June 4, 4-8 p.m., at Smokestack at Magnolia Brewing, 2505 Third St. $125-$400; cochon555.com