So. Much Food. Those three words are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wrapping up yesterday’s Cochon 555 Denver at the Ritz-Carlton downtown. Five Denver chefs participated in a friendly competition serving up their best nose-to-tail dishes for a hungry, slightly buzzed crowd.
Ultimately, it was Jasinski and her team who won top honors, but the other four chefs showed up big time in their menus and presentation.
What I love most about food festivals is the sense of camaraderie among chefs and their teams. When the stakes are high (the winner gets to compete in the Grand Cochon at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival in June), it can be easy to let your ego take over and to focus only on winning.
This year’s chef lineup was Jennifer Jasinski (Rioja); Steve Redzikowski (OAK at Fourteenth/Acorn); Bill Greenwood (Beano’s Cabin); Justin Brunson (Old Major); and Paul C. Reilly (Beast + Bottle). And yes, each chef was in it to win it all, but I loved seeing chefs and their teams supporting each other.
Jasinski’s posole won over the crowd. I tried it twice and was smitten with the spicy broth and hominy. I think I dreamed about posole last night.
I was also slightly obsessed with Justin Brunson’s PB&J macaroons. I typically skip dessert but was so glad I tried them. As I was about to pop a cookie in my mouth, Brunson leaned over and said, “Just so you know there’s liver in that.” Sold.
Jason Nauert from the Rocky Mountain Institution of Meat and his band of merry butchers broke down a whole pig in front of the crowd. I loved watching people record the event on their phones. If you’ve never had the opportunity to see an animal being butchered, I urge you to find a way to do so. I learn a lot just watching. For me, it’s important to remember that what’s on my plate came from somewhere. It didn’t just arrive in butcher paper on my doorstep. And of course it was a treat to see my favorite butcher, Mark DeNittis, lift a half a hog over his head to the cheers of the crowd.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the tremendous efforts of Bill Greenwood and his team. The nose-to-tail detail they showed for every single dish was evident in their menu. I tried the Georgia Bloodswick Stew (shoulder, head, marrow, beans, blood, cornbread and smoked tomato). Blood doesn’t bother me that much. I don’t pass out at the sight of it. I’ve cut my fingers enough to appreciate what it means (uh, you’ve gone too far). The stew itself was beautiful. The dollop of blood foam from a whip cream canister was a game changer. I can’t say I’d ever order it from a menu. But I did try several bites of the stew, and I loved the flavor. I just couldn’t get my mind past the visual. Greenwood and his team worked so hard and came up with some really creative dishes. I was honored to be among the relatively small group at Cochon who got to try the Nice F’N Loin (neck confit, brown butter dumpling, belly, and red porter). I took seconds.
If you are one of the lucky ones to have snagged a ticket to Aspen Food & Wine Fest, please go and support Chef Jennifer Jasinski. I was lucky enough to work with her – as a volunteer at a fundraiser nearly 12 years ago – and I can tell you she is absolutely the real deal. She is generous, whip-smart, and serious about her work. She is what I strive to be in the kitchen.
All photos by Sandra Morriss.