The first annual Pork Summit was held on a warm sunny April weekend in Napa, California. Blue skies and vineyards stretched endlessly, the idyllic setting for this invitation-only event hosted by the National Pork Board.

Celebrated chefs and culinary professionals gathered at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone for a truly pork-intensive weekend.

The Pork Summit was a celebration of the new direction of the protein that has long played second fiddle to competition. Its last campaign, “The Other White Meat,” likened it to a dry chicken breast, while today’s slogan, “Be Inspired,” is all about flavor and the huge potential of the often overlooked pig. Moroccan Spiced Pork Kebobs with Tzatziki with Pomegranate Glaze, Pork Bahn Mi Sliders, and Pork and Raisin Empanadas with Guajillo Chili Salsa were just a few of the pork-inspired appetizers prepared by the CIA for the welcome reception that piqued palates and imaginations to the diverse possibilities of this new image.

Beyond bacon and barbecue, pork’s potential has been largely untapped. Enter: five celebrated chefs including Tom Pizzica of Food Network’s Outrageous Food, Iron Chef Jose Garces, and James Beard Award nominee, Paul Kahan to demonstrate its versatility.

Pizzica chose pork belly, an event favorite, to put a flavorful spin on a burger. Belly Burgers served with fried pepper aioli, Mexican pickles (tomatillos), and red onion and radish in a spiced dressing, showed how pork can kick up a classic.

With an Asian approach, also big at the Summit, Chef Robert Danhi, author of Southeast Asian Flavors—Adventures in Cooking the Foods of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, & Singapore, prepared Slow Cooked Lemon Grass Pork Belly, Spiced Soy Sauce, Viet Pickled Vegetables with Kaffir-lime Chicarrones. “In summary,” he said, “Crispy Spiced Soy Lettuce Wrap.”

Charcuterie, which Farmstead Restaurant Executive Chef Sheamus Feeley called the biggest trend in pork, was well represented at the event. Cured and smoked pork in particular earned raves.

“Cured, smoked chops are up and coming in the industry,” said Chef Kahan, who prepared a Ham Chop in Hay with bird mill grits and grilled ramp salsa verde from his Chicago restaurant, The Publican.

Prosciutto was also prevalent, wrapped around asparagus and as a pizza topping with goat cheese and fig port jam at the CIA. Feeley’s “Pig Pick” dinner featured a variety of charcuterie including house-cured meats from heritage pigs and Porchetta of Berkshire pig with salsa verde.

Chef Feeley’s dinner epitomized hog heaven, as his creations regularly do at Farmstead where they smoke a whole pig seven to eight times a month. Feeley loves cooking with pork because “it’s a lot more versatile than other proteins, and there are so many different heritage breeds out there from Berkshire to Mulefoot, each with its own flavor.”

Which is his favorite cut? “It’s like picking your favorite child,” he laughed. He did eventually settle on pork shoulder which he uses a lot at Farmstead whether cut into steaks and seared, slow smoked for eleven hours, or ground to make into sausage. “

Take the shoulder, slow cook it, put onto the grill to render it out, and you’ve got something beautiful,” Feeley said.  

Flavorful and versatile, pork has moved beyond the old image and moved up the protein chain, appearing in fresh new ways.

By Lori Zanteson



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