Handsome Hog Chef Justin Sutherland talks heritage pork, whole-animal cuisine, and ramping up for Cochon555
Handsome Hog makes no bones about its commitment to whole-animal prep and decidedly pig-centric cuisine. So it makes sense that the Hog’s chef Justin Sutherland should make the list of standout Twin Cities-area chefs invited to compete in the Cochon555 showdown.
“We use every part of the pig in every dish—it’s really a celebration of the pig,” says Sutherland of his mindful approach to cooking at Handsome Hog. “And we celebrate the animal as it was before we genetically altered it to something totally different.”
Since 2008, the Cochon555 competition has taken that farm-to-table, artisan food ethos on the road—inviting five top chefs in food-forward cities from coast to coast to create imaginative dishes from five whole heritage breed pigs. Minneapolis is the second stop, with its stand-up, marathon tasting event (aka “locavore heaven”) taking place on February 19 at the Loews Minneapolis Hotel.
Sutherland’s focus on whole-animal cooking at Handsome Hog is perfectly in-step with the mission behind Cochon555, which is to educate the public and support farms that commit to raising heritage pig breeds.
“People are eating differently these days. They want to eat healthy, support the people who make their food, and know where their food comes from,” he says. “And people are realizing you can eat well and celebrate without putting on a suit coat or spending $1,000.”
Sutherland has assembled a team of local culinary phenoms for Cochon555, including Craig Kaiser, owner of Cry Baby Craig’s Hot Sauce; Donald Gonzalez, executive chef for the Madison Restaurant Group; Shawn Scepan, kitchen lead at Handsome Hog; Fitzgerald’s executive chef Graham Messenger; and Handsome Hog pastry chef Cheyenne Broughton.
“They all bring different expertise, including areas where I’m not the strongest,” Sutherland says. They met early and often to finalize their menu, but they won’t meet their assigned pig—a Gloucestershire Old Spots—until February 9. That’s when it’ll show up whole, skin-on, at Handsome Hog. After that, it’s an all-out prep-fest until the big day.
Like the other four chefs chosen to compete at the Minneapolis event, Sutherland and his team will create six dishes from one whole pig. All-told, the competing chefs will serve up between 1,300 and 3,000 plates to some of the Twin Cities’ choosiest diners, who’ll also cast a vote on which team will advance to the year-end Grand Cochon competition in Chicago. The events—both the ticket sales and meat auctions—benefit the aptly-named Piggy Bank foundation.
As for incorporating lesser-known bits of pig into your own cooking repertoire? Sutherland knows it can be daunting for home cooks, but he offers some pointers:
- First and foremost, make friends with a good butcher who can give you quality, fresh cuts and suggest ways to use them.
- “Trotters [pig’s feet] make a phenomenal stock, which capitalizes on the collagen in the knuckle meat and skin,” Sutherland says. At Handsome Hog, it’s a key ingredient in the collard greens.
- Three words: Pickled. Pigs. Ears. (They’re not just for dogs!)
- “Get chitlins in the diet,” Sutherland says. “That’s nothing new for soul food people.” Chitterlings, aka “chitlins,” are—ahem—pig intestines.
Let loose, relax, and don’t be afraid to experiment. If nothing else, approach it like Sutherland’s approaching Cochon555: “There’s always bourbon involved,” he says.
Tickets to the Minneapolis event on Feb. 19 start at $125. Or if you can’t be there in-person, follow the action on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.