Leading up to the Eater Awards, Monday November 16, 2015, we are re-visiting some of our favorite stories about the nominees. Today, we recall the time that Chef of the Year nominee Thomas Boemer won Cochon 555.
The people have spoken: Chef Boemer is king.
And by "people" we mean a panel of esteemed judges and about 500 hungry revelers at the grand finale to the 2015 Grand Cochon culinary competition.
Boemer and his team, which included partner Nick Rancone, chef de cuisine Kyle Bultinck pasty chef Tess Bouska, and sous chef Jared Storseth, won the regional contest in Minneapolis in March. This was the first time the competition was held in Minnesota. "We are just a small restaurant in South Minneapolis," Chef Boemer said. "For us to be invited to compete in the regionals was just such an honor- mind blowing, really."
And then it was off to Colorado for the prestigious event. On June 20 they presented judges and guests with three perfectly executed dishes that, after weeks of painstaking planning, were chosen as a proper tribute to the animal used. Boemer used a Large Black heritage hog from Lucky George Farm in Iowa. After months of exhaustive testing and debate, the chosen dishes were a paté en croute, Southern-style pork jowl, and a dessert that arguably put them over the top: caramelized chicharrones cradled in puff pastry with apples, maple syrup, and tasso. Even their competitors, including Palm Beach chef Lindsay Autry, admired the dish, which she touted as the most innovative dish at the event. For Boemer, it’s all about respect for the animal.
"The entire Cochon competition’s purpose is to raise awareness of these heritage breeds and the farms that take such great care of them," Boemer explained. "There was a sense of camaraderie at the competition because we all had the same mission. It’s an incredible, high profile competition, but the true purpose is to work toward an understanding of what these farms put into these animals."
Bultinck was also surprised by the friendly atmosphere he encountered in Colorado. "Everyone was very complimentary," he said. "We all saw everyone’s dishes. There was so much talent in that room. It was amazing just to be around it."
As seriously as they took the competition, the team did manage to eek out a little time for fun in Colorado. The Grand Cochon is surrounded by other events, such as the Heritage Fire, a live-fire event showcasing outdoor cooking at its finest. "Heritage Fire is incredible," Boemer said. "There are big fires and the whole field is filled with aromas from the natural wood coals. It’s an amazing sight."
And the after-party? Forgetaboutit! "There were great sponsors there who are so passionate about their products," Boemer said. "It makes for one hell of an after-party. We were there until 4 in the morning, drinking bourbon and smoking these beautiful cigars. And in the morning, all we had to do was walk down a hill where Brady [Lowe, Cochon founder] and his team put on a steak and eggs breakfast with Bloody Marys. We did that for a few hours, then went back and took a nap." A well-deserved nap indeed.
"It’s an amazing feeling to bring this honor back to Minneapolis," Boemer said, expressing gratitude to his entire team back home. "The work that everyone put in to stay behind and make sure that the restaurants ran well and our wonderful clientele was treated right, that is what made this possible. When you accomplish something like this, it really is because so many people put so much effort into making this happen."