For the fifth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by Concordia University. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2011."
For over four years, Chef Daniel Fox has been bringing world-inspired cuisine to the diners at the Madison Club, where he serves as executive chef.
Although the flavors of his food span the globe, his heart lies closer to home. Passionate about local food and building deeper connections between local farmers and chefs, Fox has also taken on a bit of farming himself. Partnering with Micah Nicholes of Cress Spring Farm, he now raises his own lard-type heritage hogs on a 110-acre farm in southwest Wisconsin.
In an effort to spread the word about these noble beasts, Chef Fox has cooked up a tantalizing gala of porktastic proportions. On Sunday, Oct. 30, he'll be inviting 350 lucky guests to the Madison Club to partake in SlowPig, a glorious (and gluttonous) celebration of all that is "pig."
The event, which is co-sponsored by Slow Food Madison, will include a craft punch cocktail competition, a pig butchering demonstration, a screening of the documentary "Pig Business" and a tasting room featuring a host of delicious sustainable products, including salami from Milwaukee's own Bolzano Artisan Meats and (for VIP guests) a sampling of their new cocoa and fig salami, FiggyPuddin'.
But the main draw of SlowPig is sure to be the celebrity chef whole hog competition. This battle puts local celebrity chefs head to head in an effort to turn a whole 250+ pound heritage hog into 5-7 distinctly delicious small plates to be sampled and judged by attendees and a professional panel of judges. Hog breeds featured will include rarities like the Swabian Hall, Meishan Cross, Ossabaw Island, Red Wattle and Berkshire breeds – each known for the distinct qualities of both its meat and fat. The event will culminate with a grand awards ceremony during which one chef will be crowned and awarded a one-of-a-kind SlowPig cast iron pan created and poured for the event by Madison metal artist Alisa Toninato.
Participating celebrity chefs will include Milwaukee's own Paul Zerkel of Roots and Justin Aprahamian of Sanford. Featured Madison chefs will be Tory Miller of L'Etoile as well as Francesco Mangano of Osteria Papavero.
Chef Zerkel, who predicts he'll be working with one of the Berkshire hogs, says he really looks forward to getting back to breaking down the whole animal.
"I first started using heritage hogs while I lived and worked in Portland, Ore.," he says. "The farm-to-table movement in Portland was starting to really take off in the mid-'90s, and it seemed that everywhere you went heritage livestock was on the menu. The neighborhood trattoria, Gino's, was getting whole Berkshire hogs delivered. That's also when I learned that a hacksaw is a pretty vital piece of equipment in a kitchen."
Working with the whole animal "affords us the opportunity to present pig in different ways, to showcase the great quality of every part," says Aprahamian, who has been working closely with whole heritage pigs during the last five or six years of his tenure at Sanford.
Although known primarily for his use of slow-cured sausage and the like, he'll be exercising particular creativity for the competition, including preparing dishes like a head cheese pot au feu gel with a mustard mousse.
And if head cheese is a little bit out of your comfort zone, that's actually part of the point, according to Chef Fox.
"Part of the purpose of this event is to really educate the public," he says.
He'd also like to see a movement toward a new way of marketing heritage pork products.
"It's about getting away from concepts like 'the other white meat' and centering more on the quality of the meat, the fat and the people who raise the animals," he remarks. "It's also about giving people the reasons why heritage pork tastes better and is more expensive."
Tickets for the event can be purchased online at two levels, general admission and VIP access. VIP tickets, which sell for $150, will include a SlowPig T-shirt, two drink tickets, a private tasting event and special access to the after-hours Fox and Fox Speakeasy, where guests will have the opportunity to mingle with Madison and Milwaukee's leading industry chefs, bartenders, farmers and craft beer and alcohol purveyors.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.