Thursday, November 27, 2014

P.I.G. (Pork Is Good) #5

Almost exactly five years ago was one of the first times I broke out a camera for a food event. The occasion was the inaugural "P.I.G." (for "Pork Is Good") party put on by Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog. A couple dozen folks showed up at the Harvey W. Seed American Legion Hall, Jeremiah served up some chicharrones, some smoked pork butt bao buns, a whole pig rolled porchetta style and cooked in a caja china out back, and a bevy of beverages, and everyone was greasy and happy.

Jeremiah's done it every year since, and every year it's grown. Last year, P.I.G. #4 was more of a collective effort, with several other local chefs chipping in on this ode to all things porcine. A couple weekends ago, P.I.G. #5 saw many of the same faces and some new ones too: Kyle Foster (formerly the sous chef at the late, lamented Talula), Conor Hanlon and Josh Gripper (The Dutch), James Strine (Café Boulud), Brad Kilgore (soon-to-open Alter, until recently at J&G Grill), Todd Erickson (Haven and HuaHua's Taqueria), Jamie DeRosa (Tongue & Cheek), Michael Pirolo (Macchialina), William Crandall (Azul), Giorgio Rapicavoli (Eating House), Brian Mullins (Ms. Cheezious), Steve Santana (Taquiza), Kris Wessel (Oolite), and Giselle Pinto (Sugar Yummy Mama).

This is genuinely one of the most fun food events of the year for me. The venue, in and behind Wynwood's Brisky Gallery, was great. The crowd was relaxed and friendly. The chefs and their crews even seem to be having a good time. And the food – which at many events like this, to be honest, is often disappointing – was pretty excellent. I didn't manage to try everything, but here are some highlights:

(You can see all my pictures in this P.I.G. #5 flickr set).

Man, do I miss Kyle. In the last couple years before Talula closed, he was often the mastermind of some great offal-centric appetizers and charcuterie items on the menu. He moved along to Denver and is doing just fine without me: he's now the sous at a place called Colt & Gray, is still doing the offal and cured meats routine, and recently got engaged (his fiancée came down to Miami with him to work the event). His charcuterie game is still very strong, and he brought a bunch of it: pork heart salami, finnochiona, jambon persille, ciccioli, and another salami he called the "Forest Moon of Endor," among others.

(continued ...)

James Strine of Palm Beach's Café Boulud is another super-talented sous chef. He showed up with some silky pork blood cakes, served over black-eyed peas and grits, a porchetta that I missed out on, and maybe my favorite bite of the afternoon, which I unfortunately didn't get a good picture of: some tender braised pork jowl, served with a dab of pimento cheese and a sliver of pickled watermelon rind over a "home-made Ritz cracker."

Another nice bite from Todd Erickson, of South Beach's Haven Lounge and Huahua's Taqueria: a buttered crouton topped with a creamy pork liver mousse, pickled pumpkin and blackberry jam, the sweet and sour cutting through the richness of the liver.

One of the more exciting developments in Miami food news is that Brad Kilgore – until recently at Bal Harbour's J&G Grill – is opening his own spot in Wywnood, to be called Alter. It will be a couple months until it's open, but in the meantime he's doing some pop-up preview dinners at nearby Miam Café (look here for some pictures). For P.I.G., he put out a crispy-shelled pork rangoon, with smoked mushrooms, cream cheese, spicy mustard, crispy nori and shichimi togarashi spice.

Jamie DeRosa, of South Beach's Tongue & Cheek (and the soon to open Izzy's Fish & Oyster) had a whole lot going on in his dish: pea shoot and basil spaghetti, braised pork shank, char siu pork, a drizzle of smoked anchovy aioli, and some pickled veg for some contrast. Somehow it all worked.

At the next station over, Mike Pirolo of Macchialina took a more minimalist approach: plump, delicate cavatelli in a dense pork ragu with shavings of sharp pecorino cheese. Completely different style; every bit as good.

A lot of big names have been tied to Azul in the Mandarin Oriental: Michelle Bernstein was there before she opened Michy's, Clay Conley before he went up north to open Buccan, rumors whirled of Thomas Keller taking over the space. Right now it's helmed by William Crandall, and recent reports indicate a return visit is in order. Crandall came to P.I.G. with a frothy pork "cortadito" (puercadito?) brightened with baking spices, apple and aleppo chile, garnished with a delicate nasturtium leaf.

Conor Hanlon of The Dutch brought all his piglets out for the party. The one on the rotisserie over the caja china was delicious: stuffed with unctuous spiced pig parts and served simply with some fresh greens, pickled vegetables and coarse mustard, it was one of the tastiest whole pig preparations I can recall having.

I used to think Steve Santana was the Zelig of the Miami food world. I'd see him everywhere: working the gastroPod, in the kitchen at Cobaya dinners, turning out food at the Broken Shaker, cooking lunch service at Eating House. Now he's running his own place at Taquiza, and the guy behind him in that picture – Eric Saltzman – seems to have taken over as Zelig. Santana's making his own scratch tortillas over at Taquiza, and from what I tried at P.I.G., they are excellent. I need to get over there soon.

Kris Wessel of South Beach's Oolite got started late (felt like old times at Red Light!), but showed up with some guajillo and allspice braised pork, served with some pickled brussels sprouts on a (gluten-free) rice and lentil cracker.

Brian Mullins of the Ms. Cheezious food truck (with a brick and mortar spot opening one day, I hope, on Biscayne Boulevard in the Upper Eastside) had a smoker going with some nice pig ribs, given a nice kick of cayenne in the dry rub, and served with a fresh corn salad with some Pt. Reyes blue cheese.

The master of ceremonies, Chef Jeremiah, rolled out the gastroPod 2.0 for the occasion, but still hadn't served his pork fat braised pork trotters by the time I left. Maybe they're ready now.The Pod itself, a mobile kitchen built into a shipping container, was looking sharp.

As the festivities carried on outside, Kyle Foster put on an impressive display of butchery inside, breaking down a whole pig in what seemed just a matter of minutes.

Even without those trotters, Jeremiah threw another great party. I'm already looking forward to P.I.G. #6.

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