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Cochon 555 From A Judge's Perspective

By Chuck Sudo in Food on May 26, 2009 6:00PM

It was around 5 p.m. Sunday when I and the other judges for Cochon 555 gathered around a series of tables set up in the middle of a cavernous ballroom in the Drake Hotel, like a scene straight out of "Top Chef." Any questions about how we were to judge the competition were answered by Cochon founder Brady Lowe. We were asked to judge the chefs on a scale of 1-5 based on three factors: presentation, flavor, and utilization of the whole pig. That last factor was important, since this was a snout-to-tail competition.

The panel Lowe managed to snare for Cochon 555 was impressive. Also impressive was the sheer number of dishes created by Chris Pandel (The Bristol), Stephen Dunne (VOLO, Paramount Room), Patrick Sheerin (The Signature Room at the 95th), Sam Burman (bluprint) and Team Graham Elliot. I say that because Graham Elliot Bowles, rather than participate himself, instead sent a team from his restaurant. Each of Bowles's chefs created a dish that reflected his or her home state or most influential cuisine style. It also showcased the collaborative spirit with which Bowles runs his kitchen, where any and all chefs are encouraged to create something for the constantly changing menu.

The play worked; team Graham Elliot wound up making an astounding 10 dishes. Not all of them were home runs, but they incorporated everything from shoulder to trotters and were as beautifully plated as something on a paper plate could be. The judges scores accounted for 49 percent of the total needed to be named "Prince of Porc," but the attendees voted Graham Elliot the winner easily. Of the named chefs who did show up, Sheerin far and away had the most impressive dishes. His slight twists to classic dishes, like an amazing mole-flavored head cheese, were my personal favorites. Burman utilized almost as many parts of the pig as Team Graham Elliot combined, with dishes whose conception didn't translate to execution, save for some amazing bacon cotton candy that places him on my short list of chefs to keep a close eye on.

I've included my favorite dishes from each chef in the gallery, along with descriptions.