D.C. chefs Mike Isabella, Haidar Karoum, Kyle Bailey, Jeff Buben and Bryan Voltaggio each attempted a shot at the "Prince of Porc" title at this year's Cochon 555 event, which took place last night at the Newseum. And while each chef managed to show prowess with pork, it was Isabella who managed to snag the title. He'll go on to compete for the national award at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen for a national title.
What made Isabella stand out from the crowd? The Graffiato chef prepared an assortment of dishes, including a charcuterie board featuring dishes like pig liver parfait and cotechino terrine. Other plates included pork belly pastrami, pig's head parm, a n'duja stuffed morel with cockles, and a nutella cookie, whipped pork fat frosting. But it was the risotto ball, a pork fat arancini, that had everyone talking.
1. "Get ready for G; it's going to be Parmesan everywhere, man!" Mike Isabella wasted no time hawking his upcoming sandwich joint as he served up pig's head parm to the crowd. Isabella was like the mayor of Cochon Sunday evening, wearing a sausage necklace around his neck, posing for photos and dishing out high-fives to his competitors, such as Voltaggio. Team Isabella also was aggressive with the swag, posting stickers on everyone and everywhere.
2. Dress this year leaned more casual than previous Cochon events. While there was an occasional cocktail dress or sports coat, jeans were the norm, sometimes accompanied by pig-themed t-shirts. Even a newborn was seen sporting a green eggs and ham onesie (the son of food writer Nevin Martell).
3. Three dishes seemed to stand out the most as crowd favorites. Along with those aforementioned risotto balls, diners raved about Karoum's spicy chicharrones and Buben's hominy soup.
4. If the chefs weren't getting enough traction for a particular dish, it wasn't unusual for them to head into the crowds to entice people to try them. Buben wandered around to convince attendees to give his pork sticky buns a try.
5. Plenty of non-participating chefs showed up to support their industry friends. Spotted, among others: Spike Mendelsohn, Scott Drewno (wearing a dapper straw hat), Tony Chittum. Mendelsohn kept trying to convince diners to vote for his friend Isabella. "Look at the mug on this guy! Vote for him."
6. Even events in DC can't escape the pop-up restaurant trend. Cochon had several "pop-up" stations that came and went during the festivities. The beef tartare bar seemed to be a favorite.
7. The event was spread out among several rooms at the Newseum. That meant a gorgeous view from the venue's balcony, and some weird crowd control logistics. Diners sometimes had to wait for a few minutes before they were allowed to circulate to the other rooms.
8. Looking to spot industry folks? You probably would find them at the Fernet Branca table at some point or another.
9. Liquor and wine was flowing, but one standout cocktail was the "Perfect Manhattan" served in Mason jars. Those who imbibed were given their choice of bourbon before the drink was made. Those jar lids, though, were on tight - it wasn't unusual to see strong looking guys approached by drinkers who couldn't manage to get their lid off of their cocktails.
10. And because why not, here's Neighborhood Restaurant Group's Kyle Bailey and his team posing with machetes.
11. One of the cutesier dishes of the night: Karoum's spin on an Egg McMuffin, featuring, naturally, pork fat. Also in this category: a chocolate blood pudding pop from NRG's Tiffany MacIssac.
12. Several industry folks, including Isabella, headed over to Black Jack for an after-party (apparently there was an after-after party over at the Taste of DC building, starting at 11 p.m., but Eater didn't last that long).
13. Jars of bacon decorated the tables. Because you know. There really wasn't enough pork available otherwise.
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