Pork to Fork
Texas-original Red Wattle Hog headed for Grand Cochon pig-out
Five heritage pigs, five chefs, five wines—Cochon555 is a culinary competition that annually tours all around the United States to celebrate family farms, heritage pigs and the good-food movement. The winners of each round battle it out at the Grand Cochon, held in Aspen on June 20 during the Aspen Food & Wine Festival. One of them is Houston’s Chef Mark Decker, of Downhouse. He brings with him the true star: a 200-pound Red Wattle heritage breed hog from the Barry Farm.
The Red Wattle is a large, red pig that owes its name to the fleshy wattles on both sides of its neck. Its origins trace back to Texas, making it a unique Texas heritage breed. “We are proud to play a part in representing Houston at the Grand Cochon with an authentic Texas pig,” said farmer Geoffrey Smith. “We have always raised Red Wattles at the Barry Farm because they represent our values most authentically above other breeds. Red Wattles are hardworking, have deep Texas roots, don’t mind the heat and are truly unique to our area.”
Edible Houston met with Mark Decker shortly after he won the Houston leg of Cochon555, to talk about the preparations leading up to this culinary competition, his admiration for the farmer who raised that Red Wattle and looking ahead to Grand Cochon.
EDIBLE HOUSTON: Did you choose the pig, or did the farmer? How did you plan and prepare?
MARK DECKER: The farmers select the pig. They know much more about that pig than I do. They look at the bone structure, the length of the back, how the hams and shoulders are filled out.
We got [the pig] 10 days in advance to put everyone on equal time frames. That puts some limits on preparations you can do. We did a lot of planning beforehand, did some testers and had a game plan. We considered having a theme running through, but I am glad we took the approach of really completely separate components.
If you missed Cochon555: The dishes served by Mark & Team were blood sausage egg rolls and Vietnamese pork belly; smoky “porkstrami” Ruben; Goan-style pork curry and biryani; Thai-style fermented pork skewerers; pibil pork stuffed cinnamon roll; a chicharron spread with liver mousse; and a Red Wattle Ricky cocktail with pork cheek- “washed” bourbon, Satsuma marmalade and salted barley soda.
EH: Have you visited the Barry Farm, which supplied your heritagebreed pig?
MD: I have been to the Barry Farm. Their approach is incredible. That is really something I think more farmers should do, or should be educated on.
EH: How is their approach incredible?
MD: Geoffrey and Renee do paddock shifts. They set up a small area and use electric fences to keep them in, which is extremely humane. The pigs touch it once and they realize: I can’t go there. Pigs are smart. The pigs have their own pasture where they can eat grass and bugs and stuff. They root around, find a wallow. Pigs don’t sweat, so they need to cool down somehow. And after a number of days, or when [the farmers] feel there is not enough edible product left they move them to the next paddock. They do the same thing with their lamb, sheep, and chickens. It is pasture land management, and the way to raise healthy animals.
EH: On to Grand Cochon. How will it be different from Cochon555?
MD: What I understand is: We pick three of the dishes that we did at Cochon555 Houston, and bring those. [At Grand Cochon] there are 10 chefs. They limit us to three. The judges can’t be asked to go through more than thirty dishes.
EH: So which three dishes do you think were the best?
MD: The pork liver mousse was outstanding. I really liked the blood sausage wrap, and the third one is probably going to be the cinnamon roll [stuffed with pibil pork]. That one was kind of the “sleeper.” We all thought it was good, but then people came back and said: “This is amazing.”
EH: How do you promote using the entire animal in your own kitchen?
MD: At Downhouse, we deal with a whole pig every week. We butcher everything in house. It is education at a base level.