If you’re a lover of pork and high-steaks (ha ha) competition, buckle up for what’s hitting Chicago this Sunday. Some may say that even Iron Chef pales in comparison to Grand Cochon, the grand finale to an epic 14-city nose-to-tail pork competition. Earlier this year, chefs competed from restaurants all around the country, aiming to win the title of Pork King or Queen of their city. This Sunday, each winner goes head to head and Chicago is hosting for the very first time.
Each of the 14 pork champions will be preparing a minimum of three bites of a heritage breed pig from the whole-animal menu that they created to win the title in their respective cities. Attendees will get to sample dozens of winning dishes, along with a vast selection of the country’s best cheese, charcuterie, desserts, and wine. Chicago’s very own Chef James Lintelman of Baptiste & Bottle will be hosting a pop-up event during the Grand Cochon while Chef Ricardo Jarquin of Travelle Kitchen + Bar, Chicago’s reigning pork champion, will be competing in the grand finale.
Among these pork-star competitors are two standouts—Nicole Gajadhar of Saxon + Parole in New York City and Paula DeSilva of Miami Ritz Carlton’s Burlock Coast. Why call them standouts? They’re the only two female chefs that competed, and won, in their respective cities. And while both women firmly note that gender does not affect their approach to the competition, both expressed their disappointment at not having more women at the proverbial table.
“I think it’s pretty cool that there are two women competing,” Chef DeSilva comments. “But, at the same time, it’s kind of sad that it’s only two. I guess we’ll just have to keep the boys in check!”
And Chef Gajadhar is of a similar mindset. “I grew up with a lot of boys and am usually the only girl in most of the kitchens I’ve worked in. So, I don’t think of it as a big deal. The only pressure I feel is [the pressure of] representing women. I want to kick butt for all the women. It’s something I would love to do, given the politics of this year.”
Both Chef DeSilva and Chef Gajadhar were born outside of the United States, spending their childhoods in Brazil and Trinidad respectively. Both women are first time contestants and winners of Cochon. And both women have taken the approach of fun, childhood memories when it comes to their dishes for the competition.
“It’s all about fun. I’ve competed before,” DeSilva refers to her time on Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen, “It’s all about having a great time, cooking great food and performing my best.” One of DeSilva's dishes will be a tribute to the national dish of Brazil.
Chef DeSilva mentions that her most intimidating moments were watching how intricate some of her competitors were with their dishes. “A lot of chefs go way out there with bizarre things that sound really cool but could be not what people want to eat. I thought to myself, ‘That’s not my style of cooking.’ I keep it highly technical but simple because that’s what people really want. Flavor and care.”
For Chef Gajadhar, simplicity also lies with memories. “All the dishes are inspired by moments that I love. I like to eat things that bring back a flood of memories. I always try to get back to a specific time and place with my food. It’s cooking, you’re supposed to have fun with it!”
Both chefs also admitted that the biggest challenge they foresee for this Sunday’s competition is the travel aspect. “It takes so much planning!” Chef Gajadhar laughs. “I’m actually bringing all the food on the plane with me! I usually ship food but these are things I won’t be able to make again because of the processes and intricacies.”
Travel is the one challenge that our own Chicago champion, Chef Ricardo Jarquin won’t have trouble with this Sunday.
For Chef Jarquin, "the biggest challenge will be keeping up with the demand...we definitely went all out with the three dishes we're serving on Sunday. There's a lot of components on every item. I didn't want to play it safe for nationals." That's our Chicago chef for you!
With promises of cotton candy pork, pork-based cocktails, and more outrageous piggy delights, it's no wonder that tickets are going fast to this pork extravaganza. General admission starts at $150. Get yours here.
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