If the air seemed a bit heavier with the scent of bacon along the Sunset Strip last night, it was due to the pork-centric carnival that rolled through the House of Blues on Sunday: the second annual L.A. stopover in the nationwide Cochon 555 tour, an event combining five chefs, five whole heritage-breed hogs, and five winemakers together into one bacchanalian cooking competition. This year's venue further cemented Cochon's reputation as the rock concert of food festivals, featuring a well-lit stage where live hog butchery subbed in for screaming guitar solos.
Chef stations were spread around the center of the room, with the crowds looking on from the periphery of the stage as kitchen crews prepared over 1200 pounds of pork. You could sip on a icy Anchor Steam, a deep and funky of syrah from Scholium Project, or a well-shaken Mason jar of bourbon and Luxardo cherries mixed by Daniel Hyatt of San Francisco's Alembic Bar, all while watching some of L.A.'s big-name chefs whole hog on their dishes.
Mezze chef Micah Wexler's menu included a non-halal version shawarma made with pork shoulder and pickles; delectable slices of liver pastrami, shriveled by smoke until they appeared mummified; and a soft blood cake pudding smeared with a mostarda of sweet pickled apples.
Jason Neroni, chef at the soon-to-debut Superba snack bar, produced a pungent and utterly addictive campangola banh mi made with black garlic and black kimchi and a pork ramen with a small lightly poached egg yolk floating on top.
Neil Fraser, most recently of Manhattan Beach's The Strand House, served a succulent dish of roasted pork loin with fava beans, ramps, morels, and fresh sweet corn would be a worthy spring special at any restaurant in town. He might have had less success with crispy chicharones topped with flash-frozen foie gras “Dippin' Dots” and a pig-brain based “offaliase,” which tasted something like a half-frozen spam wedge.
Chad Colby of Mozza, who won the competition last year, unveiled a charcuterie gauntlet stacked with homemade capocollo, mortadella, pumpkin spiced salami and a pickled and poached meat-speckled “head-to-tail” head cheese. There wasn't one person in line who didn't dream of slicing open a thick Italian loaf and stuffing it with Colby's cold cuts and assembling what would likely be one of the most mesmerizing Italian sandwiches of all-time.
But the night's honors went to the 2012 competition winner Ben Ford, a guy known for serving whole hog dinners at his Ford's Filling Station for some time, and a runner-up at last year's festival. At Ford's station were little cups of crispy pig ears drizzled with spicy alioli, a braised chili verde taco, and a pork loin tartare that disappeared almost immediately and seemed to figure as a favorite amongst the judges, which included food figures such as Adam Fleischman, Krista Simmons, Octavio Becerra and Jonathan Gold.
Later there was a butchery demonstration from Lindy and Grundy, which felt eerily reminiscent of a particular scene in Lord of the Flies, and a rousing speech by Brady Lowe, the event organizer and champion of all things local and sustainable. Lest you forget this event was all about the heritage-breed pigs and their farmers: a Large Black from Heritage Foods, a Red Wattle from Cooks Pigs Ranch, and a pair of Berkshires from Stone Valley Farm and Jubilee.
If you somehow didn't manage enough by the time the chefs were spent, the night ended with bacon-topped ice cream from Scoops Westside and chocolate made from Benton and Iberico ham for dessert. Waitresses roamed with jars filled with long strips of bacon that served as a kind of meaty toothpick. There was music too, a lively indie soundtrack that filled the room nicely thanks to fine acoustics. This may have the first time in the House of Blues' history in which guests dug the music, but because of bellies stuffed with meat and liquor, could not manage more than a half-hearted sway.