Chow Town

Cochon Heritage BBQ contest this weekend in St. Louis

It’s called Cochon Heritage BBQ, a five city barbecue competition with the self-proclaimed goal of “putting the local” back into barbecue.

I don’t know why the organizers didn’t pick Kansas City, the world capital for barbecue, to host a contest. I’m willing to forgive them, though, because they did pick me (after I asked) to judge the competition in St. Louis.

For that, I am grateful. I’ll be driving across the state for the festivities this Sunday. I’m not quite sure what to expect. There is mention of a whole hog along with 35-plus chef-prepared dishes and a bourbon bar, among many other accoutrements.

The information I have says each of the competing chefs — six representing five restaurants — have seven days to prepare a whole hog. That’s what I’m judging.

I plan to sample some of the other three dozen dishes, too, and I’ll probably take a swing or four past the bourbon bar. Bottom line is, I’m up for anything, and it’s going to be a blast whichever way the barbecue bounces.

The competition’s founder, Brady Lowe, said: “Heritage BBQ is a hyper-local event celebrating heritage breed pigs from family farms. The event is a stand-up tasting where five chef teams are challenged to use one whole heritage breed pig.”

The contest is judged by 20 notable judges, Lowe said.

I’m not sure how “notable” I am, but I’m certainly willing, ready and able. And, having judged dozens of contests of varying themes, size and importance, I think I will bring an educated palate and more than a bit of a Kansas City bias to the Gateway City.

“Chefs present their dishes as the ‘judges’ plate,’ which consists of six categories that illustrate entire animal usage,” Lowe said. “Judges score on utilization, presentation, barbecue influences and flavor.”

Check, check, check and check.

I am eager to see what the chefs come up with, especially Italian native Gian Nicola Colucci of Cielo Restaurant and Bar in the Four Seasons. I’ve been to Italy many times, and though the Italians definitely love their pork, especially when it comes to curing the meat, I haven’t seen a lot of other pork-inspired dishes.

There are few things the world over, in my opinion, that can beat a top-notch Prosciutto di Parma or Speck Alto Adige. That’s one category I expect Colucci to dominate, but I’m more curious to see what he does for/with the other five categories.

“In Italy, we have a competition similar to Cochon where we use all the parts of a pig in creating a meal,” Colucci said. “We don’t do barbecue, but we present it in a different way. I think this will be a great experience for me.”

Colucci said he’ll draw inspiration from his past as well as his family experiences and his cooking and eating preferences. And, he says, he’ll be smoking, but only for one of the six categories. He said he believes his experiences and nationality will set him apart.

“I’m Italian, and I have to admit that I can’t change what I have inside,” Colucci said. “Everything I make has an Italian touch. I prefer to use fresh herbs like in south of Italy, extra virgin olive oil and, of course, traditional recipes. However, I like to organize great marinades with homemade spices like in north of Italy.”

In addition to Colucci, the other competing chefs are Jenny Cleveland and Eric Heath of Cleveland-Heath, Patrick Connolly of Basso, Josh Galliano of the Libertine and Lou Rook of Annie Gunn’s.

Of the group, I’m familiar only with Rook and Annie Gunn’s. With a meat-centric menu and a market attached to the restaurant, I’m guessing Rook knows his way around a heritage hog. But we shall see.

Aside from seeing, and tasting, what Colucci and Rook come up with, I’m also interested in sampling what a female chef, Jenny Cleveland, brings to the testosterone-dominated land of barbecue and whole hog cookery. Whatever this talented group of chefs comes up with, it promises to be interesting, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

“All that’s needed is an appetite, to be there by 2 p.m., and have an eye for flavor and a thirst for beverage,” Lowe said. “We do the rest.”

For more information, including tickets, go to the Cochon Heritage BBQ’s website.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.