There are pig parties, and then there is Go Pig! Or Go Home! The second annual charity throwdown event last night at Kata Robata was every pig lover's dream -- and then some -- with Houston's top chefs throwin' down everything from traditional roast suckling pig to cochinita pibil to oysters topped with pig, plus pig pizza, pig sushi handrolls and pig ramen.
With more than 600 attendees and over 20 chefs competing, it was easy to get swept away by all the gleeful craziness of it all. Everywhere you looked, there were people enthusiastically stuffing their faces, while others laughed, drank, hugged and ogled the endless pig imagery on display at almost every single stand.
Like the proud mascot at a football game, whole pigs and whole pigs' heads were the decor of choice last night, some stuffed with flashing glow-in-the-dark eyeballs while others were just sitting there waiting to be petted or photographed. Pig skin was the second most utilized decor of the night, with stands like Uchi using whole sheets of crisp chicharrón to create a food sculpture and The Tasting Room using mounds of chicharrón cascading across their table.
I valiantly tried to eat my way through each and every stand, but only made it about three quarters of the way through. It was too hard not to overindulge, because all of the chefs in attendance came out with guns blazing: Max's Wine Dive's Michael Mann Pellegrino made hundreds of baby pretzel bread pork piglets and stuffed them with pulled pork. Chris Shepherd and team Underbelly were doing full-size tastings of bratwurst.
Aquiles Chavez of La Fisheria offered delicious rolls of cochinita pibil with pickled onions. Ryan Hildebrand and team Triniti did bowls of green pork pozole; Chris Leung and Cloud10 Creamery did pâté en croûte with balsamic ice cream. Jonathan Jones of Monarch at the Hotel ZaZa did puerco tatemado colimense, a Colima-style pork marinated with coconut palm vinegar and ginger stewed with ancho and guajillo chiles and avocado leaf, served with black bean and epazote refritos, queso fresco and pickled red onions.
Kaz Edwards and Mike Castillo of team Uchi were doing curried pork open-faced sushi handrolls with corn kimchi and house pickles, and sous vide pork-topped yucca chips with ramp puree. David Cordúa of Americas was doing feather light crispy arepas topped with pork. Raymond Vandergaag and team of The Tasting Room Citycentre did pork gumbo topped with chicharrón.
Mike Potowski of Benjy's on Washington did pulled pork rolls. Erin Smith and team Clumsy Butcher were doing a pulled pork with sweet and tangy relish. Monica Pope and team Sparrow Bar + Cookshop did a fantastic char-siu whole roasted crispy pork, tea-poached kale salad, toasted rice vinaigrette, and trotter totts with beet wasabi ketchup.
Randy Evans of Haven was there with whole pork rolled up pâté en croûte-style, and while Cove was doing pork soft tacos, Willie Lai of Dynasty did his scrumptious Chinese-style crispy-skinned roast pork. Muiishi Makirritos and the H-Town Streats trucks were also parked outside with picnic benches with fresh-from-the-food-truck pig creations.
On the labor-intensive side, Chef Manabu Horiuchi and team Kata Robata were barbecuing rice sheets over Japanese coals and braising batches of sous vide pork on a small skillet to create layered spoons of crisp rice topped with pork, sea urchin (uni) and crisp chicharrón. Justin Yu and Team Oxheart were shucking fresh oysters on the spot and topping them with braised pork with smoked crème fraîche. Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan and team Provisions were making this fantastic pizza topped with pork, chicharrón, arugula and spicy cream sauce.
Ronnie Killen and Team Killen's Steakhouse brought a whole smoker on site to offer sous vide pork belly with cherry tamarind glaze, glazed barbecued ribs, pork tamales and maple bacon Dippin' Dots. And not to be outdone, Mark Gabriel Medina and his team at Soma were doing à la minute tastings of ramen with Texas Bourbon smoked pork, grilled sous vide pork belly, soft-boiled egg and pickled corn.
Inside, the Kata Robata kitchen was rocking it out with an endless supply of sushi and other appetizers, from sushi maki (rolls) to salmon nigiri, grilled oysters, tuna tartare on fried lotus chips, ceviche and inari tofu skins stuffed with edamame rice. On the patio, Bobby Heugel was doing cocktails, and there was beer from 8th Wonder Brewery and Saint Arnold.
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In the end, although everyone was a winner in my book, the big winner of the night was Ronnie Killen of Killen's Steakhouse for his fantastic offering of ribs, pork belly, tamales and Dippin' Dots. Mark Gabriel Medina and Soma Sushi took second place for his delicious ramen. Medina and team Soma also took home the coveted Golden Pig trophy, emerging as the clear People's Choice winner of the night as well.
Congratulations to everyone who competed in Go Pig! Or Go Home! 2013. This is one event that will definitely go down in history as epic. Here's to the mayhem continuing next year!