The weekend kicked off with a bourbon-fueled tasting soiree atop the historic Peabody Hotel, where guests whet their appetites for the weekend to come with porky bites from local hotspots Alchemy, Interim and Las Tortugas. Thunderclouds cast a pall on the al fresco event, but fortunately, the downpour didn’t start until after the blind gourmet baloney tasting was over and the bottles of Eagle Ridge had been safely transported inside. After the party was the afterparty, with midnight chicken and waffles to soak up some of the booze (or not—the bar remained packed well into the wee hours, and Magnolia 610 chef and former Top Chef-fer Ed Lee may have tried to exit the premises with an entire handle of Buffalo Trace tucked into his arm. It didn’t work.).
Saturday morning kicked off with the benevolent godfather of bacon himself, Allan Benton, hosting a Bloody Mary, bacon and oyster tailgate brunch at Ryan Trimm’s Sweet Grass restaurant. After that breakfast of champions, a busload of brave (or stupid) souls set off for a 10-stop odyssey of Memphis’s barbecue institutions, including Payne’s, Cozy Corner, The Bar-B-Q Shop and Central BBQ. This cholesterol onslaught occurred before the evening’s big event, a popup dinner at Sweet Grass from Jamie Bissonette (Coppa, Toro in Boston), Will Gilsan (Puritan & Co. in Boston), Ed Lee (Magnolia 610 in Louisville) and Ryan Trimm (Sweet Grass), who spun Memphis ‘cue classics like barbecued spaghetti and barbecued bologna on their heads, the Cochon way - into dishes like cavatelli pasta with barbecued sugo and mortadella-Robiola sandwiches. High on animal fat, a few revelers snuck out after dinner to visit some of the city’s legendary juke joints for a late-night taste of the blues.
By Sunday, stomachs were appropriately stretched for the main event, the Heritage BBQ competition. A dozen team - each headed up by a Cochon vet - went head-to-tail on a whole hog, serving some 4,000 lbs of heritage BBQ to over 1000 people. A squadron of judges made the rounds, grading each team on flavor, technique and utilization of the animal. Some teams played it safe with pulled pork and charcuterie, while others went, ahem, hog wild, turning out everything from pig skin “noodles” to bacon-fried egg custards. In the end, Todd Mussman and Jay Swift from Muss & Turner and 4th & Swift in Atlanta were declared the winners, thanks to their inventive Southerwestern/Italian/Asian/BBQ presentation.
As pork-stoned, bourbon-soaked guests slowly ambled to the final afterparty, Elvis’s “Love Me Tender” drifted from the stereo, a fitting end to a soulful and meaty Memphis weekend.