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Cochon 555: Swine, Stollen Kisses, Tears, and Whining About the Drive to Vail

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Cochon 555 Vail Edition
Cochon 555 Vail Edition
Photo: Adam Larkey

Cochon 555, the traveling culinary competition and tasting event created to promote sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs, hosted its Vail edition yesterday at the Four Seasons Resort Vail. Five chefs, five pigs, five wineries, and more were the at the center of a feast in which one King of Porc was crowned. This participating chefs were Kelly Liken of Kelly Liken Restaurant, Alex Seidel of Fruition, Lon Symensma of ChoLon, Hosea Rosenberg of Blackbelly Catering, and Jason Harrison of Flame Restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort Vail.

This event is widely considered to be the best of its kind and, at least in part, that is due to the competitive nature of the chefs involved. Each participating chef got a whole hog supplied by Tender Belly and each of them went to great lengths and intense effort and preparations to outdo the competition. The result? An outrageous spread of pork-centric dishes for guests to pig out on. Some of the best from yesterday's event included Kelly Liken's porchetta sandwich, Alex Seidel's shumai, Lon Symensma's Zampone, a Chotechino-stuffed trotter, the nose-to-tail soup prepared by Hosea Rosenberg, and the pork rillettes crafted by Jason Harrison .

What else did guests enjoy at Cochon? A show-stopping butchery demonstration by Bill Greenwood, chef of Beano's Cabin, a lavish cheese tasting table compliments of Cured, crispy Tender Belly bacon strip snacks served in Mason jars all around the room, beers from Anchor Brewing, a caviar station, a freshly shucked oyster station, a spread of High West spirits, a mezcal station featuring three sought-after labels, a tartare bar, and more. It was lavish by any account, filled with beautiful food, great bites, and attractive booze. The winning chef was Jason Harrison of Flame at the Four Seasons Resort Vail. He will compete in Grand Cochon this June in Aspen. Here are the hangover observations.

Every participating chef had a great entourage of helping hands, but behind Kelly Liken's table were Jenna Johansen, now of Epicurean Catering and her fiancee Mark DeNittis, formerly of Il Mondo Vecchio and currently the culinary director of the Cook Street School of Culinary Arts. These two were working hard and stealing kisses from each other whenever they had a spare moment.

Alex Seidel could not remember exactly how he came up with the Luau theme for his pork challenge but he sure was happy to wear a flowery Hawaiian shirt and a real pink orchid lei. "When else do I get to dress like this?!" Seidel said at the Cochon after party. The Fruition chef and owner was accompanied by his new manager, Mario Nocifera, a Frasca and Oak at Fourteenth alum, who committed, at least for the next four months, to taking on some of the responsibilities left behind by Paul Attardi.

Kelly Whitaker of Basta Wood-Fired Eatery and Pizzeria showed off a bit of how it's done: he finished Denver Restaurant Week, went out with friends in Denver on Saturday night, including stops at the Populist, Old Major, and the Alabama Shakes concert, then proceeded to drive to Vail for Cochon. Whitaker, who was accompanied by his wife and four year old daughter, drove to Carbondale following the event and hit the ski slopes today.

Jeff Osaka of Twelve Restaurant was exhausted from the intense two weeks of Denver Restaurant Week and the previous three days of prepping for Cochon where he participated in the Chef's Course dinner on Saturday night and helped chefs Lon Symensma and Alex Seidel with preparations for Sunday's event. But Osaka did not let the tiredness get in the way of showing off photos of his 18 month baby girl who had just gotten a first taste of playing in the snow back in Denver.

Emily Biederman, who handles marketing and PR for Steuben's, Ace, and Vesta Dipping Grill, lived to tell the tale of the mountain drive from hell, a five hour Denver-Vail trip (usually an hour and a half), that took her over Loveland Pass after the Eisenhower Tunnel was closed. This was the first time over Loveland Pass for this Denver native who grew up skiing.

Jeremy Kossler, organizer of the popular Denver Burger Battle, whined (less legitimately) about his drive up to Vail as well. Kossler was delayed about 20 minutes by some westbound rubber necking traffic curious about an accident that closed the highway eastbound. Drive aside, Kossler was supposed to be a judge for Cochon, with his name in print as a judge in a local Vail newspaper, except no one let him know about it. He and his wife, Kelly, very much enjoyed Cochon as guests.

Brandon Biederman, the chef at ACE, who judged the competition, mentioned more than once during the eating/judging that he was running out of room- that, of course, until the dessert course appeared. Biederman confided that he has a huge sweet tooth.

Some could just not stop eating even after the Cochon feast. PR pro Jim Guttau was enjoying a Caesar salad at the after party while Eater photographer Adam Larkey was overheard saying "I got the fever...the fever for more chocolate ganache!"

The after-party included some of the obligatory late night scenarios: guests and industry professionals who had much too much to drink and were walking around like zombies carrying bottles of Fernet ready to crash into a deep sleep, a near brawl started by a completely insignificant gesture, and a drunk couple arguing frantically in the corner, complete with tears and untamed bouts of jealousy.

· Tender Belly Will Provide All the Heritage Pigs for Cochon 555, the Vail Edition [EDen]
· Head Up to Vail for Cochon 555 on March 10 [EDen]