Pork lovers, get ready. On October 1,14 chefs from 14 cities across the country will face off in Chicago for Grand Cochon, the epic national finale of Cochon555, a head-to-tail cooking competition that crowns the winning chef “King or Queen of Porc.” In anticipation of the event, we talked to Travelle Kitchen + Bar's Chef Ricardo Jarquin, hometown favorite, about his love of all things pork and his plans for taking home the crown.
Chef Jarquin won Chicago's regional competition in April by wowing industry judges and the audience with his pork cookery. You can taste several porky dishes on Travelle's menu, including steamed ginger pork dumplings, crispy octopus and pork belly served takoyaki-style, Mangalitsa pibil tostadas and Mangalitsa pork chop (both pictured below). The Mangalitsa pork Jarquin uses comes from Meadowbrook Farm in Benton Harbor, Michigan: the same farm he used to win the Chicago Cochon555 competition.
You won the regional Chicago competition back in April by preparing six dishes from a 220-pound heritage breed pig. Which dish of yours was the biggest hit?
I felt that all the dishes we served that day were a hit. The big focus was on flavor and execution. By far the crowd favorite was the pork shank won tons, which I served with a rich buttery kimchi tonkotsu broth and pickled hon shimeji mushrooms to balance out the richness. I’m bringing back the wontons and the adobo-braised pork shoulder for the national competition, both of which are dishes that we won regionals with. I’m working on a new pork belly dish which will incorporate flavor profiles of my favorite Japanese street food takoyaki.
What was it like butchering such a massive adult hog for the first time?
Super fun! I’ve done small piglets in the past, but nothing of this magnitude. I got the team involved so we made quick work of it. My least favorite part of it all was taking the skin off. Besides that, we had a blast.
Have you always liked cooking pork? It seems like you have a lot of pork sprinkled throughout the menu at Travelle.
I have a severe infatuation with everything pork-related. I was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, which is a melting pot of Central and South American culture and gastronomy. Pork is definitely a staple in my home country and a lot of countries that are represented in Miami’s food scene, so I found myself eating pork very often growing up. Everything from the crispy pork rinds my mom would make for breakfast to the medianoches I would have late at night from the corner Cuban café. Not the healthiest of diets, but definitely a very delicious one.
How are you feeling going into the competition? Confident? Nervous?
I’m keeping the same game plan that I had going into regionals, not really focusing on who we’re up against. All our focus is being placed on planning and executing delicious product. This competition is not won by who is most popular, but by who comes through with the most solid dishes. We are all super excited.
What is your favorite pork dish on Travelle's current menu?
My favorite pork dish on the menu right now would have to be the Mangalitsa Pork Chop. We marinate the pork with some herbs, garlic paprika, brown sugar, and Dijon mustard. We grill the pork chop and serve it alongside a cherry mustard jus, grilled snap peas, and oyster mushrooms, which are tossed in habañero vinaigrette.
Grand Cochon will take place on October 1, 2017 at Morgan Manufacturing. In the week leading up to the main event at Morgan Manufacturing, there will be cookbook signings, charcuterie and cocktail pop-ups, a food summit and punch competition. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery and Piggy Bank, a genetic sanctuary for heritage breed pigs. Learn more about Grand Cochon and buy tickets.