Modest Prince Pampuch Isn’t Quite Basking in Cochon Win
Scott Pampuch and his winning team celebrate on stage.
Scott Pampuch, chef at 4Bells and the new Minnesota Prince of Porc, didn’t make a big deal about winning this year’s Cochon 555 event. He said it was a minor thing compared to the big news of the week.
“I’ve had a few people say to me, ‘You’re surprisingly quiet about your win,” said Pampuch. “The one thing that really happened last week that I think is super important and everyone knows about it: Ann Kim winning the Beard Award. I said, ‘Look, I did one little pig thing on a Sunday night and that woman has been toiling and sweating and doing just amazing things for her entire career.”
He said even during the Cochon event he was getting updates here and there about the James Beard Award ceremony. To him, the event is an important recognition of the farm-to-table success pushed along by the non-profit Piggy Bank, but it pales in comparison to Kim’s big win.
“That’s way bigger than any other pig cook off,” said Pampuch.
But his modesty belies a real achievement for the sustainability champion and founding chef of Corner Table. Pampuch has joined a select few chefs that make it to the super regional event, and could join a pair of Porc royals that came right out of his old restaurant. Both chef/owner Thomas Boemer and current chef Karyn Tomlinson won the overall national event, being named King and Queen of Porc, respectively. He said they can expect a call or a visit.
“Of course I’ve got two Grand Cochon winners in town that I may be calling or popping in for a visit and sharing. I feel a certain amount of pressure to both current Corner Table chef and my historical connection to Corner Table,” said Pampuch. “I feel a little extra pressure to not screw this one up.”
His winning dishes cut right to the heart of the Midwest, a fan favorite being his “church basement sandwich,” comprised of a supremely flavorful slice of ham on whipped lardo and pork fat buns. His pierogi were darn good as well.
“We’re here in the Midwest and you can’t drive through Northeast Minneapolis or any small town without seeing a sign on a church that says, ‘pierogi for sale this Sunday.’ So those were probably the two most popular items for the general public. From judging standpoint, what a number of judges expressed to me was that it was a thoughtful progression of dishes. It did show utilization of the whole animal, we had all sorts of pieces and parts and we used them in unconventional ways. That’s what the judges were really looking for.”
He said given the strong competition from Timothy Fischer of Cosmos, Jose Alarcon of Popol Vuh, Yia Vang from Union Kitchen and Mateo Mackbee of Model Citizen, he’s still surprised and humbled by the win. It might just be a “pig cook-off” but that certainly feels good.
“I can honestly say Niki [Heber, his chef du cuisine] and I walked through the restaurant these past two weeks and randomly look at each other and high five,” said Pampuch.
He’s not quite ready to jump into the hard work required for the next stage of the event in Chicago, but come June 1, he and the team will get back to it with some learnings from the local stage.
“One thing I feel our plate did lack was a fresh element in terms of whether it’s a fresh sausage or a fresh cold cut,” said Pampuch. “There’s all sorts of nooks and crannies when you’re talking about muffle in a hog. There’s some smaller sections of muffles that take on amazing characteristics and flavors, I think that will be my biggest challenge in this next round to make the menu even more balanced and even more representative of pro-cookery going into this event.”
Right now, he’s taking a close look at what the other Cochon princes and princesses are doing to get a good look at the next set of competitors.