Pork, I’m inspired!

A couple weeks ago a friend invited me to attend the National Pork Board’s Pork Summit 2012. The two-day event at the Culinary Institute of America’s (CIA) St. Helena, Calif., campus was all about celebrating pork-loving chefs from across the country: the twenty-plus chefs attending all had awards to their name for their pork-cooking skills.

Five of the pork community’s notable chefs were there to lead the attendees through lessons, demos and a cook-off. They brought with them top-notch education, worldwide experience and a lifelong passion for creating yummy things. I learned about brining, grinding, slicing, marinating, stewing and even cutting up and stuffing a pig’s head. (Actually that last one is a lie; I skipped that lesson.)

The one thing that was not discussed was health. Nutritional value, dietary guidelines, food allergies, caloric-intake – these items were not on the agenda. The produce journalist in me had a hard time letting go of this, but I was a guest here so I put down my notebook and just reveled in the the weekend’s theme – flavor!!

Some of the specific demos included:

  • Chef Jason Alley, chef/partner of Comfort and Pasture restaurants in Richmond, Va., taught us about Virginia country ham.
  • Chef Robert Danhi, a food consultant and author with a specialty in Thai cooking, created Chaing Mai Laab Moo, a “spicy, Thai, pork, hot salad thing that has fried, braised and steamed pork chopped with a cleaver,” as it was described to me prior to the event.
  • Chef Chad Colby, the chef for Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton’s Scuola di Pizza and Mozza 2 Go in LA, made Guanciale served with Bucatini, just like he learned to do in Italy.
  • Chef Adam Sappington, owner of  The Country Cat Dinner House & Bar in Portland, Ore., showed us how to butcher a pig’s head and stuff it with confit-style scrapple.

Two of the instructors from the CIA also joined in the fun: Lars Kronmark showed us how to make fresh sausages and Bill Briwa discussed the science and art of brining and curing, which you’ll be surprised to know involves a lot of math.

We got to devour – I mean, taste – everything that was created.

And if you think that sounds amazing – because it does – then wait till you hear about day two. The chefs above led the attending chefs and media in a five(ish)-course cook-off. Each group got half a pig and anything else they needed from the market basket.

Here are some highlights from the kitchen:

Chad Colby sorting out his half a pig.

Jason Alley sharing his creations with the the group of chefs.

Everything included pork.

I ate more pork that morning than over the previous six months combined.

Overall the experience was a once-in-a-lifetime: I learned more than I ever thought I’d know about pork; I ate pieces of pig that I didn’t know existed; I left inspired by the chefs’ skills and passion – and very very full.

The retail industry often looks to foodservice for inspiration and the latest trends. This event was a great example. While the days’ activities revolved around cooking and eating, the weekend was about sharing. It was about sharing experiences, supporting endeavors and rewarding creativity. All in the name of pork. All so the industry can continue to boom.

Boom is good. I hope the retail world is listening closely.

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