When I first heard that Cochon 555 was coming to Memphis it was on the down low. I was told "whatever you do DO NOT TELL ANYONE". At least until the official announcement. I will say that usually I have absolutely no self control when it comes to situations like this. However, this time was quite different. Cochon 555 coming to Memphis was, the way I saw it, a high profile spotlight illuminating the world-class food scene we have here. I didn't want to do anything to screw that up so I kept my mouth shut. Well....I kept my mouth shut until I got to Cochon 555 & stuffed it full of pork! Much to my surprise I got the overwhelmingly cool honor of being one of the judges. At 3:40 p.m. this Saturday I arrived at The Columns & walked into what is sure to go down in history as the most amazing food event in Memphis history.
I wandered around & talked with a few chefs, fellow judges & friends. The space was absolutely gorgeous. I think it was a perfect location for it because it underscores our attempts at adaptive reuse here in Memphis. The time came for us to gather for a judges meeting with Brady Lowe, founder of Cochon. He gave us a run down of what to expect, how to go about the judging process & what he expected from us. Off we went to see the first chef.
Chef Kelly English & his Restaurant Iris team had a lovely little cocktail awaiting us. Cracklin skewered Luxardo cherries garnishing a bacon infused manhattan. Ab-so-lutely delicious. He presented his food, what he was trying to accomplish & his thought process behind the theme.
The basket presentation was whimsical but not silly. It worked quite well with the "takeout" theme. After a sip of the manhattan I was ready to dig in. The first plate was box of cold noodles (some made of fat back) pork shoulder & chilled pork belly. Normally I've only had pork belly hot so this was unique for me. Each layer of meat & fat was so distinctive of each other. It was crisp & super rich & succulent. I loved the juxtaposition of the fresh crisp greens against the tongue/cheek pate like schweinkampf crostini. Texture is always something I find to be of the utmost importance. Chef Kelly's next dish was a reference to our beloved Grizzlies: Heart, Grit & Grind. The grits were super creamy but still toothsome from being stone ground. I was really pleased to see such utilization in Kelly's dishes. From the hearts in the ragu over the grits to the blood in the ganache on his eclairs. It all worked.
This has to be the most unique menu presentation I've ever seen. It's attached to a pig skin backing using barbed wire. That is beautiful & yet another utilization of the pig. Chef Kevin Nashan looked like a pretty cool, laid back guy but it was obvious from the plate that he was passionate about pig. With a little bit of whimsy thrown in.