David Varley, king of the pig
In the hierarchy of yearned-for culinary prizes, the James Beard award is tops. The title "Top Chef" is pretty good, too. But right up there is a new title, the King of Porc.
Chefs love the pig. So the Grand Cochon award that pronounces the ultimate pork prowess is something to squeal about. The first to take the title is Washington's own David Varley, the 29-year-old chef de cuisine at Bourbon Steak.
As winner of the Washington nose-to-tail pig competition, Cochon 555, Varley was eligible to compete in the grand challenge. His competitors included an illustrious list of nationally known chefs: Devin Knell of the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif.; Corwin Kave of Fatty 'Cue in New York; and Sean Brock, who just won a James Beard award in May, of
McCrady's in Charleston, S.C.
But on Sunday at the Aspen Food & Wine festival, Varley served the winning menu: a traditional pork pate, a "jungle" red curry with pork shoulder, loin and belly and Porkeos -- chocolate cookies made with lard and filled with a whipped lard icing.
"I wasn't surprised. We worked hard," Varley said in a phone interview from Denver on his way home. "On any given day, I'll throw our food up against anyone else's."
But Varley took every precaution to ensure victory. He prepped most dishes in Washington at the Four Season's restaurant kitchen. The cookie dough was mixed, rolled out and shipped frozen to Aspen with 60 pounds of dry ice. The staff prepared the pork terrine, made with prunes and Armagnac, cooked the meat, sous-vide, for the jungle curry and shipped that as well. All told, Varley said he overnighted more than 400 pounds of pork and other ingredients.
"There's not a lot of room to prep in Aspen. Every chef that matters in the United States was cooking there last weekend," he said. "A lot of guys had more work to do there. We were able to come in and calmly take the victory."
So will we be seeing more pork coming out of his Washington kitchen?
Varley used quite a bit of his winning pig to make charcuterie, and that may end up on the menu come fall. But the chef admits he can't go too crazy. The name of the restaurant, after all, is Bourbon Steak.
-- Jane Black
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