Which Pig Prep Will Prevail? Handicapping Cochon 555

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The premise of Cochon 555 is simple and brilliant in its porcine gluttony. Five (or 6, in this case) top chefs in the city each get a heritage breed pig and are told to do their best work. What ensues is an epic feast of upwards of 30 different dishes, running the gamut from tip to trotter and from snout to stomach, for 400 people and 20 judges, resulting in the declaration of a Prince or Princess of Porc, with the winner moving on to the Grand Cochon, a national 'finals' for piggy-greatness in Aspen. So whose swine will reign supreme on Sunday, March 17 at Cedarbrook Lodge, this year's Seattle event?

The winning dishes tend to run out early, so it's good to know where you want to head first. Here's a handy guide handicapping who might be the next chef to wear the Cochon crown. Previous winners served up dishes with bold flavors, like two-time winner Jonathan Sundstrom's trotter fritters with black truffle aioli, and had no hesitance to go totally over the top--see first Seattle winner Anthony Hubbard's (CHOW Restaurants) candied bacon ice cream on a crispy bacon cone. Winners have mostly followed a certain pattern of cuisine--while all four winners of the San Francisco award hailed from Italian restaurants, both Seattle's and Portland's events have been dominated by chefs focused on local Northwest foods (Hubbard being the exception there). Sundstrom's crab and pork red curry sausage showed his talent for bringing the region's fresh seafood into focus at such a swinish event.

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That talent has brought him success, and in the first criterion of handicapping, he's the clear winner: Sundstrom has won the Seattle event twice, competed at Grand Cochon and Cochon All-stars, and judged it three times. With three points for a win, two points for competing, and one for judging, Sundstrom has 11 points. The next competitor down, visitor Jason Barwikowski of Woodsman Tavern in Portland, has only six (competed once, won another time, and judged twice). Team Joule and Revel, Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, have competed once before (two points), and Jason Franey hasn't competed, but has judged twice (two points), while Joshua Henderson of Skillet has judged just once (one point). Only Chef Shane Ryan, of Matt's in the Market strikes out here, with no prior experience. He could have beginner's luck or he could fall to the veterans, but he's got a secret weapon: the owner of Matt's (Dan Bugge) has competed with previous chef Chester Gerl, and judged multiple times.

Chef Ryan's menu also ranks high in the second of our criteria: porkiness of menu. How much pig are these folk parting with on a daily basis? Analysis of each competitor's restaurant's online menu showed that he gets three points for having the third porkiest menu (coming in at 14 percent). The winner, by eight percentage points here is easily the bacon jam boss himself, Henderson of Skillet. With a whopping 24 percent of his menu containing pork, he earned those five points. Second place is Barwikowski's Woodsman Tavern (four points for 16 percent), followed by Ryan, Yang and Chirchi (10 percent, two points), Sundstrom (one point for 8 percent), and Franey's Canlis menu, a point of hope for the pigs of the world, at a mere 3 percent pork (no points). Luckily, as one can see by Sundstrom's score, this is not the only factor.

Sundstrom, Barwikowski, Franey, and Ryan all get two points for cooking up the solid champion of Northwest Cochon events, local cuisine. Getting one point for serving the runner up, New American, is Henderson. Yang and Chirchi's Korean/French mash-up is far from the standard award winner, so no points here, but fingers crossed that they change the pattern.

The criteria show a third one in the cards for top point-earner Sundstrom, of Lark (14), followed closely by Barwikowski (12). There's a big drop, but then likely contender Henderson comes in with seven points. Dark horse rookie Shane Ryan only earned five, while Yang and Chirchi are tied at the bottom with Franey at four.

That means the smart money might head to Lark's table first, to ensure you get a taste of his possible three-peat dishes, but to be honest, the best thing about Cochon is that there are no losers in the crowd of hungry eaters. The chefs put on a fabulous show of great food and heritage breed pork, displaying their talent with dishes that are hard sells on restaurant menus: it's unlikely you'll find the 5 Spot's menu serving up Anthony Hubbard's winning pork brain mousse, and rarely has the likes of pork blood ravioli crossed the pass at Staple and Fancy.

To partake in the gluttonous feast, find your tickets (and more info on the event) here.

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