Cochon Island: 5 pigs, 5 chefs
Five pigs, five chefs. Add six bourbons and a Manhattan bar, a mezcal bar, five chef takes on ramen, a cheese and charcuterie spread, seafood tartare bar and an ice cream social, and you have Cochon Island, the Hawaii leg of the national Cochon555 tour.
Five years ago, in an eat-it-to-save-it campaign, Brady Lowe started Cochon555 to bring more awareness to heritage breeds. These days, as with a lot of livestock, a few vertically-integrated large corporations control most of our pork supply, focusing primarily on a few pig breeds.
Lowe wants to change that. Hence, a porkapalooza to get farmers, chefs and eaters excited about heritage pig breeds, the lesser-known varieties, the ones raised for qualities other than how fast they put on weight and how well they cope within the industrialized meat system.
The chefs: Peter Pahk (Mauna Kea Beach Hotel), Michael Young (Bistro Molokini), Mark Noguchi (Pili Hawaii), Lee Anne Wong (previously on Top Chef and the Cooking Channel), and Ed Kenney (Town).
The pigs come from Waimea, Maui and Oahu (Shinsato Farms) and include a Big Island feral pig.
Lowe tells us why we should get excited about Cochon Island, which arrives next week at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island:
So what can people expect at the event?
There’s going to be great wines, bourbon, a mezcal bar. Anchor Brewing and a local beer company will be there. The food is the five chefs taking their own spin on the whole pig. Each one will also do their own spin on ramen, which I’ve never seen on tour. I’m really excited about that. I’m going to the fish market here, going to figure out whatever’s in and sustainable now for a fun tartare bar or something similar. There will be a dessert element, maybe a big ice cream social. I want to talk someone into making a country ham bourbon ice cream.
Devin Lowder (of When Pigs Fly Island Charcuterie in Kona) is going to do a butcher demo, take the whole pig down and sell it all like a pop-up retail butcher shop.
Sounds fun! So the purpose of this event is to promote the heritage pig breeds. Other than serving them, how do you engage people in a conversation about them?
A lot of folks haven’t been fully aware of heritage breeds, even the farmers. You (Hawaii) have a great pig culture, but the heritage pig aspect isn’t on the tip of anyone’s tongue. And they’re here, but it’s just not readily available. An event like this brings to the forefront the idea that there are all these different breeds. So farmers here start to say, what if we put five different species on the property? And that gets their customers excited and adds a little bit of diversity. It’s like fish diversity. It’s not like everybody just wants to have tilapia. Everyone wants all these cool choices of fish, and you get excited because everything’s so different. You have all this great diverse culture of species, and that’s the same for pigs.
I know you chose chefs for Cochon Island who already embrace your philosophy, of using nose-to-tail, local pigs. How do you convince other chefs that taking on a whole pig is worth the effort? It’s harder, right?
Yeah, it’s much harder. I guess it would be like this: think about if your whole life you read CliffsNotes, because you don’t want to read the big novel. And everyone’s been reading CliffsNotes for so long, they’ve been taking the shortcut. But when you read the full version, you’re, like, that was an amazing experience. The act of reading a whole book, the act of taking down a whole animal, it’s about the creative component. You get to be with that whole animal, from cover to cover.
There’s also a huge profit benefit. And there’s so much flavor and food products that can come out of a whole pig. You have control over it, whereas when you get things in a box, precut for you, you kind of lose that control.
$125 general admission/$200 VIP, Saturday, September 21 at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on Big Island. Buy tickets at cochon555.com
Want to know what it’s like? Read Mark Noguchi’s account of Cochon555 in New York, which he participated in as a judge. (Cochon555 events are usually a throwdown between the chefs for best pork dishes; Cochon Island is a celebration instead of a competition.)