There’s a scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where Charlie Bucket’s face lights up after realizing everything on the banks of the chocolate river, from the gummy bear trees to the buttercream mushrooms, is made of candy. The same thing happened last night at the Viceroy Hotel, except instead of a Roald Dahl character, it was hundreds of semi-formally dressed gourmands, and instead of candy, it was pork fat. The childlike sense of wonderment was pretty identical though.
It was the annual L.A. stop of the Cochon 555 tour, which pits five local chefs—armed with five locally raised heritage pigs—against each other in a philanthropically motivated nose-to-tail cook-off. The featured charity this year was Piggy Bank, which aims to create a heritage breed pig sanctuary that provides free genetics and business plans to emerging family farms. Though Walter Manzke from République would be crowned the Prince of Porc for the second year in a row, we thought we’d give all the chefs their due. These are the best, porkiest bites we had from all the competitors.
Brooke Williamson—BBQ pork sandwich with belly, trotter, heart, and shank
This is like pulled pork sandwich meets surtida—a grab bag of pig parts from maw to ear to uterus—from a carnitas joint. The gelatinous pork bits are covered in a sticky glaze, thrown into an everything bagel-spiced pretzel bun, and topped with some pickled baby beet and onion to give some much needed crunch. Ethically sourced nose-to-tail sandwiches are the best sandwiches.
Jason Neroni—Stuffed trotter terrine with black truffle, cognac soaked morels, and foie gras
Nothing scores points at an event with all-you-can-drink wine like foie gras and truffles. Hey, sometimes you just gotta get a little bougie with it. A trio of mustard and some house pickles are basically all you need, but the real pros made a terrine sandwich using some of The Rose’s demi baguettes that chef Neroni was topping with prosciutto and blood butter.
Carlos Salgado—Chorizo con papas taco with salsa de manteca
Even after Carlos Salgado ran out of tortillas he was still serving one of the tastiest bites of the night. The chorizo was aggressively spicy, the fried baby potatoes added some starchy crunch, and then the cilantro and crema rounded the whole dish out. But the real key here, and an incredibly inventive use of pork, was the salsa de manteca. Melted pork fat with crushed dried chilies became the ketchup of Cochon 555—we put it on everything.
Walter Manzke—Pork tartare with caviar and pickled onion
We know, we know, “Don’t eat undercooked pork,” your middle school health teacher said. Though we agree that you shouldn’t make it a weeknight dinner staple in your own kitchen, when in the right hands—in this case, reining Prince of Porc and Reépublique chef Walter Manzke—uncooked swine is totally safe, and totally delicious. And in a crudo-driven food world, eating a raw protein you’ve never had before is a rare thing.
Bruce Kalman—Pig candy cannoli
Watching people eat desserts at Cochon 555 is the best because there’s always someone who forget the whole event is devoted to pigs. “Oh my God, is there pork fat in here?” a woman worriedly exclaimed as her friends laughed. Yes. Yes there is. There’s a lot of it, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Also, shout out to Bruce Kalman for being far and away the best dressed person at the soirée. Long live the fictional hair metal band/pig-centric pop-up restaurant, “Porchetta ‘Bout It.”