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Cochon 555: A Sweatpants-clad Toast to the Restaurant Industry



Here's what the do-it-yourself-with-our-help Cochon 555 kits looked like right out of the box.

Nicholas Upton

Cooking a pork steak on a Zoom call with 150 other virtual people in pajamas is a far cry from the raucous pork-themed bacchanalia of a typical Cochon 555 event, but it was an enjoyable homebound reminder that the restaurant industry struggles onward as do the local farmers that support it.

In a more-typical year, the event is a competition that pits local chefs against each other in a city hopping party with the winner crowed King or Queen of Porc by attendees and celebrity judges. At the center of the competition is high-quality heritage pigs from local farmers. The chefs share all their porky magic with thongs of foodies alongside open bars and cocktail slingers. In short, it’s not something that works at a proper social distance and can’t easily be translated to a Zoom call. But organizers, chefs and foodies all pulled together in a nice reminder that we’re all still here.

This year, chefs prepped their food to-go, like much of it these days, and the foodies lined up in blissfully beautiful weather to take a semblance of Cochon 555 home with them. On a Zoom call, chefs Steve Brown of Saint Genevive; Chandra Walbolt, Union Hmong Kitchen; Karyn Tomlinson—the winner of the overall national event in 2018—representing her future restaurant Myriel; Jorge Guzman, of the impending Petite Leon (represented by Rhett Roberts during the call); Jametta Raspberry, House of Gristle; and Jose Alarcon of Vivir, the Mexican café, bakery and market that will replace Popol Vuh in Northeast.

Emcee Billy Harris tuned in from Los Angeles, sipping a sponsor cocktail of La Croix at Buffalo Trace whiskey out of a Citi glass. He worked through the very Zoom-call of some glitchy audio and a few late guests and did his best to pull out some audience participation (he’s more of a stage persona for sure).

Brown kicked things off with a mocktail, made with sponsor La Croix and a blast of ginger and hibiscus. And just as he started describing it poof went my wifi. It returned just in time to hear Raspberry describe what was in her dish: crispy pork belly, glazed in crab caramel. What’s crab caramel? Sugar and “fermented crab paste.”

Walbot, who was the woman behind the logistics of the pick-up too, said her dish was near and dear. “This gyoza was inspired by a dish my mom made growing up. It’s like a stew you cook it down,” said Walbot. “But I did my own rendition and turned it into a dumpling.”

Attendees were advised to sear it up in some oil to reheat the dish and enjoy the wine!

Alarcon said his dish was on every corner growing up in Mexico; which is why he chose it. Guzman’s Petite Leon marinated pork steak served as a very DIY preview of the upcoming South Minneapolis restaurant. Attendees shared videos of their steak searing up in their cast-iron or on their grills. If the mole-based marinade is any indication, it’s going to be a delectable spot. 

Tomlinson’s dish, the only pork-free item, featured local beets, dill and “sink your teeth into it” arugula.

No pork is a bit of a detour from the event, even Brown’s fig opera cake had lard infused into the layers. But Tomlinson said her dish was a shout-out to the local farmers that are struggling along with so many restaurants.

“It’s really there to show off the relationships we have with a lot of local farmers,” said Tomlinson. 

The event, which highlights such relationships gave platform to Carla Metz, the owner of Iron Shoe Farms, who shared her COVID-era struggles during the virtual call.

“We lost 90 percent of our business in two hours,” said Metz. “COVID has been rough.”

It was a stark and emotional reminder that for all those restaurants at low capacity or shut-down altogether help support a whole chain of people who are also hurting as the industry remains upended.

Tomlinson said that was especially on her mind as she worked toward opening Myriel.

“It’s a scary time to open a restaurant, but you gotta do something,” said Tomlinson. “Hospitality has to survive and you have to do what you can.”

And that was the major tone of the event, six local chefs, among many in Minnesota, trying to provide a little hospitality in a very strange time. Here’s hoping we can all raise a glass and eat a gyoza and some crackling in person next year.

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