2010 Cochon 555, New York: Fatty Cue was Robbed
Two days before the official opening of Zak Pelaccio's long-anticipated Malaysian barbecue joint Fatty Cue, his restaurant was robbed.
As the sun set over Pier 60 in Manhattan last night, hundreds of well-fed revelers washed down heritage pork with Averna Juleps, picked through bacon cracker jacks, and gathered around a stage's hay bale base, awaiting the winner of Cochon 555 New York. The announcement was met with the flashbulbs of groupies, foodies and bloggers as well as those of the chefs' own camera-phones. The prestige, the trophy, the invitation to the national Grand Cochon championship this summer in Aspen was awarded to Adam Kaye and his team from Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
That was the scene of the crime and the culmination of New York City's second annual Cochon 555, the second of ten regional competitions promoting heritage breed pigs and the amazing things local chefs can do with them. Moved from a cold day in the cramped basement of the Maritime Hotel last year to a perfect Spring day both inside and out of Chelsea Piers, a refined caliber of chefs butchered, plated and proffered Large Black, Ossabaw, Berkshire and Duroc pigs. Gone from the competition were Resto, Eighty One and Moosefund Farm; instead, this year welcomed Hearth, Cafe Boulud and Blue Hill at Stone Barns to compete with last year's victor Fatty Cue as well as Del Posto, back for redemption.
Both returning restaurants made the biggest gamble, making only one dish each. Del Posto's Mark Lardner, convinced his dishes were the most ridiculed one year ago, directed all his focus into a hundred layer lasagna made from shoulder, sausage, testa, belly liver and kidney, served cold, skewered and sauced with a blend of Piennelo tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and chili balm. Unfortunately, with only one dish on display and no photogenic carcass to draw crowds, enthusiasm waned and diners scattered.
Not so from Team Fatty Cue, dressed in stickers, tattoos and a cross-section of hipster headgear, popping Pabst tallboys and lime drizzled cans of Tecate while presiding over a tableau of a hollowed out Berkshire, swollen lobsters and a cauldron of steaming red curry. A constant crowd descended upon all sides, as much for the chefs' food as their enthusiasm. Had the judges not been sequestered, had they witnessed how time after time revelers would wait or cut the line for another bowl of succulent whole pork sprinkled with minced smoked lobster and soaked in red curry all under crusty bread to sop the juices, it would have been hard to ignore the verdict of the crowd's collective palate. However, it's equally easy to imagine the jury sampling the returning champion's single dish in silence, immediately sensing the flavor came from the sea and not the slop, and dismissing Fatty for their competitors who were as ambitious as Chef Corwin Kave and the Cue were overconfident.
Among the unlikely suspects to take the top prize, Cafe Boulud ran out of food first. 700 portions of seven dishes gone in an hour. Tamales, bacon-infused bourbon, barbecued belly and slivers of cold, gelatinous blood sausage pot pie were among the summarily devoured dishes, displaced more through efficiency on the part of the chef and his staff than genuine enthusiasm to consume them. Hearth lacked said efficiency in distributing its Duroc, but for those patient it was worth the wait for Marco Canora to slice nibbles of porchetta.
Patience was not a problem for those who wished to sample the prize-winning dishes Blue Hill at Stone Barns put forth. Adam Kaye succeeded by turning his Ossabaw into a scaled down Farmer's Feast, the signature Stone Barns degustation amplified with its never-ending amuses. Here those bites didn't just whet the appetite but demonstrated how many directions the kitchen could carry one pig—Coppa ham, Canadian bacon over frittata, terrine sandwiched between chocolate tuile, crackling focaccia with whipped lardo—and kept the crowd happy until Kaye could sauce his closing argument of pork toe, fried bologna and pork belly on a bed of curried lentils.
At the end of the day it was Blue Hill's conspiracy of flavors and textures that were found guilty with walking away with Fatty Crab's prize, but we still think the lobsters are responsible.