Alex Chang had no idea what he was in for when he tried to carry a 200-pound pig into his kitchen at Vagabond Restaurant and Bar.
“Between four people, we dropped it a couple times on the way to the door,” he laughed. “I didn’t realize it would be so heavy!”
The expectations for what he will make from that Red Wattle pig are even heavier.
Chang is one of five Miami chefs participating in the annual Cochon 555 cooking competition at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach on Sunday. This is no slapped-together chef throwdown. The event showcases five top local chefs using every part of five heritage pigs (raised for their individual flavors), paired with five winemakers.
The winner — to be dubbed Prince or Princess of Porc — goes on to compete in the national event in Aspen on June 18 against regional winners from cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago for title of King or Queen of Porc. The event raises awareness of the importance of using quality, local ingredients and humanely raised animals.
Those who pony up for the limited, $125-a-person tickets (and $200 VIP tickets, both still available online) will be treated to food that has been handcrafted just for this event in five top Miami kitchens: Chang’s Vagabond, Michael Fiorello at Beachcraft, Xavier Torres at Drunken Dragon, Diego Oka at La Mar and Anthony Le Pape at the host Ritz-Carlton.
“It’s like going to five great Miami restaurants at one time,” Oka said. “It’s incredible.”
So is the challenge for the chefs. Beyond keeping their top restaurants going, they must each create six dishes using every part of the pig, “rooter to tooter,” as they say in the South. It has been a special treat for the likes of Oka, whose La Mar specializes in seafood with his Peruvian influence.
The menus are mouth-watering. Among the chef’s six offerings each: Oka is making everything from tartare to tiradito from his Large Black pig in Peruvian style. Torres has announced he’s making a jokbal (soy-braised pig head and feet) and pork short ribs. Fiorello is making a pistachio bucatini pasta with pork shoulder. Chang has a Japanese milk bread, bacon and noodles in an XO Asian-style broth. Le Pape is making head cheese croquetas.
Fun is the name of the game, but the chefs admit they all want to outdo each other with delicious food and move on as the winner, such as Pubbelly’s Jose Mendin, who won two years ago and Michelle Bernstein, who won the inaugural Miami event in 2012.
“Everybody has a good time, but it’s still a competition,” Oka said. “You want yours to be the prettiest, the most delicious.”