Cochon 555 Pork Competition Turns Five, Kicks Off February 17 In Atlanta

baconMuch ado about pork products is made on Gadling, with good reason. Even if you’re sick to death of pork-centric eateries, and lardo this and sausage that, it’s hard to deny the allure of the other white meat (I can’t tell you how many vegetarians and vegans I know who still have a jones for bacon).

For those of you wanting to attend the ultimate porkapalooza, get your tickets for Cochon 555, a traveling, “National Culinary Competition & Tasting Event Dedicated to Heritage Pigs, Family Wineries & Sustainable Farming.”

The 10-city tour kicks off February 17 in Atlanta, and will include stops in New York; Boston; Chicago; Washington, DC; Miami; Vail; Seattle; San Francisco; and Los Angeles, before culminating in the dramatic Grand Cochon at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen on June 16. Notice that Colorado gets two Cochon visits? The South isn’t the only place that appreciates pork.

Cochon was created by Taste Network’s Brady Lowe to raise awareness about, and encourage the sustainable farming of heritage-breed pigs. At each destination, five celebrated local chefs must prepare a nose-to-tail menu using one, 200-pound, family-raised heritage breed of pig. Twenty judges and 400 guests help decide the winning chef. The 10 finalists will then compete at the Grand Cochon for the ultimate title of “King or Queen of Porc.”

Depending upon venue, attendees can also expect tasty treats like Heritage BBQ; butchery demonstrations; mezcal, bourbon, whiskey and rye tastings; specialty cheese sampling, cocktail competitions; a Perfect Manhattan Bar, raffles, and killer after-parties.

For additional details and tickets, click here. Partial proceeds benefit charities and family farms nationwide.

[Photo credit: Flickr user out of ideas]

The Southern Road: The Perks Of Gas Station Food

The South has its highways, but in order to get to some places, you have to take four-lane or two-lane roads. That’s where you’ll find gas stations. And in many gas stations, you’ll find food.

Up north, hardly anybody I know eats food from a gas station, unless they’re starving and it has a Subway attached. Down south, gas station food is its own form of cuisine. If you’re fortunate, you can score breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in a good gas station, which may also have its own booths and dining tables.

At bare minimum, a gas station worth its salt (or fat) will serve breakfast – primarily a biscuit. This is usually a chicken, country ham or sausage biscuit. It is as far from Grape-Nuts as breakfast can get. I had resisted the biscuit breakfast until I was on the road from Birmingham, Alabama, to West Point, Georgia.

I passed a gas station that offered “Hot Biscuits & Full Breakfast, Live Bait, Hunting and Fishing Supplies.” Inside, I bought plain biscuits. They were fine, and flaky, and filled my mid-morning needs. But I knew there was more out there.

I found gas stations that featured barbecue, gas stations with fried catfish (many proudly displaying a “raised in the USA sign”) and gas stations with fried chicken. I found gas stations with a head-spinning, rainbow variety of frozen drinks that actually scared me.

I really struck gold at the Dodge’s Chicken Store in Lexington, Tennessee. It isn’t technically a gas station, but a restaurant with an adjacent gas station. The signs offered the trinity: chicken, barbecue and catfish.

Inside, people were jostling each other to get up to the counter. The variety was enormous and the prices divine: $2.99 for a pulled pork sandwich, $5.99 a pound for barbecue, $2.59 for a slab of catfish. There was corn on the cob, fried corn on the cob, hush puppies, mac and cheese. And, there were fried hand pies, a little bigger than a McDonald’s pie.

Since I knew I’d be eating a big lunch, I asked for a small piece of catfish and a sweet potato pie. The counter girl looked disappointed: “Aren’t you going to have any sides?” she asked. It was a perfect snack, and a terrific example of gas station food.

Grilling Around The Globe: A Memorial Day Photo Tribute

Where there’s smoke, there’s barbecue – and there’s no better time than Memorial Day to light that grill. This year, instead of the same old, same old post on burgers, food safety and how not to burn the patio down, I thought I’d offer a photo tribute to grilling in all of its glorious permutations around the globe.

I confess to taking some liberties, and adding a few methods that don’t call for an open flame. The Hawaiian imu is a familiar site to luau lovers; it’s a pit filled with hot rocks that effectively roasts the food (in this instance, pork). The curanto from the Chilean archipelago of Chiloe is also Polynesian in origin (hailing from Easter Island, or Rapa Nui) and operates on the same principle, but also includes shellfish and potato cakes called milcao and chapaleles. Spit-roasted suckling pig, whether it’s Filipino lechon or Cajun cochon de lait, by any other name would taste as succulent.

Argentina remains the indisputable holy grail of grilling but plenty of other countries utilize fire –indirectly or not – to cook food, including Japan, Morocco, Turkey, Vietnam and Australia. Enjoy the slideshow and don’t forget to wipe your mouth.

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Barbecue Boot Camps: Taste Instead of Torture

Boot camp tends to be something people sign up for because they think they should. Participating may be helpful for getting back in shape or training for an athletic event, but it usually just feels good when it’s over.

Imagine if boot camp were a joy to the taste buds instead. These five culinary-minded camps teach barbecue techniques, from fire making to the whole hog, and they feel good from beginning to end.

Alisal Guest Ranch BBQ Boot Camp

Held every March, the BBQ Boot Camp takes place on this 10,000-acre working ranch in California’s Santa Ynez Valley. Santa Maria barbecue originated from 19th-century Spanish-style ranch cookouts in this region, and is considered one of the significant barbecue types in the United States. Executive Chef Pascal Godé and Hitching Post II owner Frank Ostini help guests hone their grilling skills, with sessions covering barbecue elements and techniques – from spice rubs to starting a fire.

The Broadmoor BBQ University

It may sound smarty-pants, but BBQ University at this five-star Colorado Resort appeals even to the common man. The grilling course is named after instructor Steven Raichlen’s PBS TV show, and has been called the “best barbecue experience in America” by the Food Network. To learn the six methods of live-fire cooking, students can choose from more than 30 smokers and grills during the session, as well as prepare at least eight recipes per day. Put on your big boy apron. They don’t call it BBQ Kindergarten, do they?Jack’s Old South Cooking School

Learn to grill like a champion at this school for barbecue in Georgia. The Jack’s Old South Competion Bar-B-Que Team has won more than 200 grand championships, 40 state championships and 11 national championships in barbecue. Chief Cook Myron Mixon holds the Jack’s Old South Cooking School at his home, with courses in whole hog, ribs, chicken, brisket and pork. Those who dream of being pit masters will feel at home with the contest format style of the school.

North Carolina Barbecue Society BBQ Boot Camp

“Society” and “barbecue” go together at the NCBS BBQ Boot Camp, where campers learn to master North Carolina-style barbecue and judging. The state’s best pit masters and chefs teach barbecue techniques for everything from wild salmon to whole beef tenderloins, and ambitious students can sit up all night with pit masters preparing whole hogs for the grill. The diploma students earn here may find a special place on the kitchen wall at home.

The Culinary Institute of America Grilling and BBQ Boot Camp

The Grilling and BBQ Boot Camp promises students will “BBQ your way across the United States,” without having to spend tons of money on gas. The intensive class covers hot smoke and barbecue for dishes ranging from seafood, poultry and meat to veggies and side dishes. Students mystified by rubs, sauces, brines and marinades will see the light, and become a celebrated grill master at home. Boot campers here walk away with a classy chef’s uniform.

New Orleans Roadfood Festival rolls in March 24-25

new orleans foodThat New Orleans is a food town is no secret. What I just discovered, however, is that it’s host to a food festival spawned by one of my favorite pastimes ever: road food (and no, I’m not referring to this kind). Way back in the day, when I was a wee college student, I discovered the late, great Gourmet magazine, and became obsessed with “Roadfood,” a column (now a website) written by the road-trippin’, big-eatin’ couple Jane and Michael Stern.

In every issue, the Sterns would choose a micro-region of the U.S. and a local specialty on which to focus their column. Each month, I read about chicken and dumplings in Indiana, pasties from Montana, green chile from El Rito, New Mexico, or barbecue from Owensboro, Kentucky. Then I’d wipe the drool off of the pages and stash each article away in a manila folder to be saved for future road trips, both real and imagined.

Apparently, nearly half a decade ago, while I was lost in some “best roadside diner biscuit” reverie, the Sterns helped create the New Orleans Roadfood Festival. The 4th annual food fiesta will be held March 24-25 in the city’s historic French Market. It will provide a showcase for over 30 restaurants across the country, which will serve the dishes that made them famous. Attendees will be able to street-feast upon Texas and Memphis barbecue, Tucson’s best tamales, custard from upstate New York, Cajun and Creole delicacies from across Louisiana, and many other regional culinary specialties. There will also be cooking demos, live music, a beignet-eating contest for the N.O. Fire Department, and a kickoff party featuring the Sterns, local chefs, and noted cookbook author Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

And get this: admission to the festival is free. You’ll still have to pay for those good eats, but a portion of the proceeds will benefit Cafe Reconcile, a non-profit restaurant that uses innovative strategies to provide life skills and job training to youth from at-risk communities in area. Just in case you need a guilt-free reason to indulge. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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[Photo credit: Flickr user Adam Melancon]