Capital Cooking Contributor
Cochon555 invaded the District for an evening of pork-centric fun. The national tour set up shop at The Liaison Hotel on The Hill.
Five of D.C.'s great chefs competed to be named the Prince of Porc: Scott Drewno of The Source by Wolfgang Puck, Nicholas Stefanelli of Bibiana, Ed Witt of 701 Restaurant, Mike Isabella of Graffiato and Wes Morton of Art and Soul.
It's not an easy competition. Each chef and his team is challenged to make the most of the heritage pig he is given. Five talented chefs cooking up five pigs and serving wine from five family wineries; there are much worse ways to spend a day.
|Chef Scott Drewno explains each dish to the panel of judges|
The panel of judges was made up of a diverse group of 20 chefs, media and professionals. This year, instead of chefs bringing food to the judges, the judges went to the chefs. The group gathered before the official event and were lead to the chefs' stations, one by one, for the marathon of pig. Each competitor grabbed the mic and made his presentation of up to six dishes, while the judges tasted, deliberated, and made their marks. Chefs were judged on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on presentation, utilization of the pig, and taste. A score of 15 makes a perfect rating.
With defending Prince of Porc Scott Drewno presenting first, it was setting the bar high from the get go. The man had wooden serving plates custom made by his farmer, with a picture of a pig personally burned into each one and metal screws in the side which he used as chopstick holders. From pork blood in a creamy custard to fabulous bacon served with a deviled quail egg and his famous-for-a-reason Chinese dumplings and lettuce cups, he showed the crowd that he was in it to win it again. While execution and bold flavors were prominent, he put just as much effort into his presentation, and it was apparent.
|Drewno's Cochon presentation|
The judges moved on to see Wes Morton, who referred back to his Cajun roots and made some stellar sausage. Andouille sausage offered his take of a classic pork and beans, and a spicy sausage with thinly sliced peppers. He presented muffaletta sandwiches made with his own salami, a wonderful savory backbone stew served in a decidedly cute, mini cast iron skillet, headcheese spears with pickle and pearl onion, and bites of skin so startlingly crunchy that you could hear the person eating across the table from you. As one judge said, "It's probably the best bite I've had in the past three months." The crunch gave way to a thin layer of fat to coat the tongue. It felt utterly indulgent, but you found yourself thankful that there was another piece to follow.
|Bibiana's Nick Stefanelli's Italian-inspired Cochon offering|
Nick Stefanelli and his team presented pig in an Italian twist. Judges worked their ways around his plate like a clock. Thin slices of pork in his charcuterie presentation started it off, then zampino, polpette, carbonara, bombetta, and a sweet leaf fat cannoli to balance out all the porky goodness. Highlights include the meatball, which was so delicate and tender, the pork ravioli which was presented with a fragile and deliberately placed egg yolk, and the crisped and airy pork fat dipped in a silky cup of pork blood. It was light, salty and crunchy, becoming almost sinful when combined with the blood. Delicious.
|Judges gather round at Mike Isabella's grand set-up|
It's lucky that presentation is a category, because crowd favorite Mike Isabella can put on a show. A towering, bulky wooden structure framed his station, his giant menu hanging above. Using bribery as a tactic to gain fans, Isabella came armed with t-shirts, pins, printed hats and cookies. The words "Living High on the Hog!" marking everything. Instead of focusing on one style of food, the former Top Chef contestant served his tasty pig in varying ways, going Greek to Indian to Italian and Mexican. He served a yogurt-topped spitroast in a lettuce cup, a pork tenderloin vindaloo with papaya, and a pork leg ravioli. A small stickered burger box revealed his BBQ pork sandwich and crispy trotter tots. The biggest surprise, however, was the taco, where pork fat was the star. Battered and fried, it looked totally unsuspecting. A spritz of fresh lime and a bite revealed a warm, melting center. Did I really just eat a pork fat taco? Why yes, yes I did. Finish it off with a decidedly unporky-but-delicious tasting jelly doughnut, which was placed in a tiny wooden crate. With a personality big enough to take over the room, it was evident that Isabella was all about winning. He wanted to be the Prince and wanted you to know.
The last chef to present his dishes was 701's tattooed Ed Witt. With a staff donning "Team Witt" t-shirts, he served up his dishes with a festive side of pig temporary tattoos. Lardo with mint, liver with pistachio for crunch, liverwurst, a colorful headcheese made with "all the leftovers," does it ever really get old? Answer: not really. He served a gorgeous pork spear in a champagne glass, in pasta form, with asparagus, and Dr. Pepper marinated pulled shoulder over a biscuit. But at the finish, Witt was able to gain smiles all around with the most inventive dessert, and one of the most original overall dishes, of the day: an obnoxiously decadent pork blood and chocolate ice cream in a crunchy, chocolate-dipped cracklin' cone.
|Four of 701 Restaurant Ed Witt's pork dishes|
Almost overwhelmed, and very full, the group of judges made their final tallies and turned in their ballots. The group counts for 49% of the total vote, with the public at 51%. With flowing wine and bourbon, a champagne toast, tons of fabulous food and even a whole pig butchering session, all in the same room, it was sensory overload in the best, porky way possible.
But at the end of it all, once the votes were tallied, the man who won it all, once again, was The Source's Scott Drewno. Congratulations to Drewno and his team for putting together such a great combination of food for the crowd! He will now go on to compete at the Grand Cochon in Aspen this June to gain the title of King of Porc. Best of luck to him and his team!
photos by Heather Victoria and Samantha Grieder