Walter Manzke appears to be unstoppable. The chef, whose Republique was named Best New Restaurant of 2014 by Los Angeles magazine, bested a strong field in the Cochon 555 nose-to-tail heritage-pig cooking showdown at the Viceroy Santa Monica on Sunday.
Manzke, who dazzled guests with dishes including an extravagant pork belly with caviar, and a funky, soulful arroz caldo (Filipino rice porridge), also surely won votes as he made his way through the crowd, smiling widely and posing for photos while carrying huge trays of food like a bright pork ceviche with guacamole.
Manzke wasn’t alone in bringing in his A-game. Every contender at Cochon 555 successfully went big on pig.
Ricardo Zarate went deep with “A Fusion of 5,000 Years,” weaving Incan, West African, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Iberian elements into his Peruvian menu. Standouts included the Chinese-influenced arroz chaufa (Peruvian fried rice with smoked cecina, baby scallops, and popped quinoa), an Incan-influenced stew with chorizo and trotters, and his Iberian-influenced churro rellenos with duck-fat dough, foie gras, lucuma (a Peruvian fruit that tastes like sweet potatoes and maple syrup), bacon sugar, and pisco cranberry sauce.
Along with charcuterie, Terrine’s Kris Morningstar made something that can be best described as a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich for kings: The McDowell featured duck-and-pork cotechino, egg, trotter, foie gras torchon, and duck ham on a Terrine English muffin. Morningstar also took pork and beans to a bold, bloody level with morcilla, pork belly, and butter beans.
The Church Key’s Steven Fretz served his own version of pork and beans with foie gras espuma and made brown-butter glazed brioche donuts topped with tiny pieces of chicharron.
Host chef Tony DiSalvo of Cast in the Viceroy proved that green chorizo gravy and a quail egg are exactly what you want when you eat biscuits and gravy.
But it was Manzke who garnered the most votes from the crowd and won a trip to Aspen for the Grand Cochon finale in June. L.A. has no doubt that he will represent our city well.