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When Locavores Attack: Portland Loses Cochon 555


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#1 pinotguy

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 02:21 PM

When Locavores Attack
Portland Loses Cochon 555


by Robert Wolfe
pinotguy@oregonpinotnoir.com


Many of you heard about the chef-kerfuffle here last spring, when local-loco chef Eric Bechard of Thistle Restaurant in McMinnville fought with Brady Lowe, organizer of the grand pig-fest known as Cochon 555 (in which I participated as a local judge for the last two years). It made the Portland food scene a national headline item again . . . only this time, for unsavory reasons. Bechard objected to the use of a pig raised in a state other than Oregon. Although Bechard had no connection to the event, he got drunk and then violent and then garnered some publicity.

That's bad enough. But now word is that Bechard's restaurant is humming with business, and that he promotes his eatery by relying on the tales of his drunken hooliganism - as if it were something to be proud of, instead of something perverse and dangerous.

In the intervening months, Lowe has propelled the Cochon event to even greater heights. What started out as a small project to raise money for some non-profits in a few cities has blossomed into the darling event of foodies nationwide. The focus is on heritage breed pigs, and all the glorious butchery, bacon and meaty goodness that go along with the raising of swine. Cochon has now become a nationally-known event with major sponsors and top chefs in participation.

Along the way, Lowe has created an awareness of heritage breed swine, promoted small farmers, artisanal butchers, great chefs and wineries, and knit all of those into a grand community that produces nothing but positive results for everyone involved. Even desperate Eric Bechard, forced to promote his cookery via fistacuffs and bluster, gets a win out of this. Thistle has been championed by The Oregonian's David Sarasohn, whose unwillingness to think past the end of his fork has led him to praise Thistle in print and to downplay Bechard's loutishness - and undoubtedly helped Thistle's revenues to boot.

But Portland loses. Our town will not host a Cochon event in 2011, our chefs will be left out of the community being built by this marquee event, and our swine-raisers won't meet their kindred from other states. Cochon spokespeople don't want to draw a straight line between Lowe's broken leg and Portland's exclusion from the festivities, but I'm willing to draw the obvious conclusion: Bechard wins, Portland loses. How is that right?

Localism in food is a good thing. Being a locavore is a noble aspiration. But when it surpasses the boundaries of reasonable passion and becomes the only possible ideal above all others, it then becomes perverse and inexplicably irrational. In Bechard's case, it also becomes dangerous dogma with violent consequences.

Give me all-local veggies, meats, and salmon, please. But I'll take my Jamon Iberico from Spain, my French wine should come from France, and I like my coffee beans from Indonesia - I'll pay extra for air freight.

I will not ever pay for a meal at Thistle, however. In my opinion, neither should you.

#2 polloelastico

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 03:14 PM

I don't think really any sort of localvore fatwa had anything to do with this unfortunate incident. Bechard was wasted and became an ass - the "local pig" angle just became a cudgel. As with any event where alcohol flows freely, I doubt he was the only guy assing out, but he certainly seemed to be the biggest offender.

I'm not sure why I would have to boycott his restaurant if one thing doesn't necessarily have to do with the other. Lots of people make mistakes and pay for them - this guy went to jail, suffered a lot of humiliation, etc. Doesn't mean he needs to be punished and pay residual penance until the end of time. We can all move on, even if the organizers behind Cochon 555 cannot. And if they truly are using some randomly drunk asshat with an anger management problem problem as justification to avoid Portland (and Bechard lives/works 90 minutes away), then they should avoid any city in North America.
“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” — George Carlin

#3 Quo Vadis

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 04:24 PM

I don't think really any sort of localvore fatwa had anything to do with this unfortunate incident. Bechard was wasted and became an ass - the "local pig" angle just became a cudgel. As with any event where alcohol flows freely, I doubt he was the only guy assing out, but he certainly seemed to be the biggest offender.

I'm not sure why I would have to boycott his restaurant if one thing doesn't necessarily have to do with the other. Lots of people make mistakes and pay for them - this guy went to jail, suffered a lot of humiliation, etc. Doesn't mean he needs to be punished and pay residual penance until the end of time. We can all move on, even if the organizers behind Cochon 555 cannot. And if they truly are using some randomly drunk asshat with an anger management problem problem as justification to avoid Portland (and Bechard lives/works 90 minutes away), then they should avoid any city in North America.


I second this.
Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances-Hume

#4 Pignut

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 05:36 PM

When Locavores Attack
Portland Loses Cochon 555


In the intervening months, Lowe has propelled the Cochon event to even greater heights. What started out as a small project to raise money for some non-profits in a few cities has blossomed into the darling event of foodies nationwide. The focus is on heritage breed pigs, and all the glorious butchery, bacon and meaty goodness that go along with the raising of swine. Cochon has now become a nationally-known event with major sponsors and top chefs in participation.

But Portland loses. Our town will not host a Cochon event in 2011, our chefs will be left out of the community being built by this marquee event, and our swine-raisers won't meet their kindred from other states. Cochon spokespeople don't want to draw a straight line between Lowe's broken leg and Portland's exclusion from the festivities, but I'm willing to draw the obvious conclusion: Bechard wins, Portland loses. How is that right?


The only thing that Portland is missing out on is a big mass of hot-air & marketing fluff.

Cochon does NOTHING to focus on heritage breeds - this is a seriously flimsy claim that Brady Lowe has done a masterful job in hoodwinking both media & attendees. While the stated goal is to showcase heritage pork, the simple fact that they insist on using 100lb piglets for the event demonstrates the focus on style over substance. A 100lb pig is not fully developed, and nowhere large enough for the various characteristics of each breed (flavor, muscle-mass, bone density, fat, etc.) to express themselves.

A 100lb pig is not even large enough to accurately showcase quality butchery! It's a good show, but not much more than that.

It's also telling that in the background, Cochon wore out its welcome with many of the suppliers in the region due to lack of payment, incessant whining, and general b.s. There is a reason that the winning pig came from Iowa last year - there were not enough suppliers in the area to supply piglets (I am one of those who did supply a pig, and wouldn't work with them again if they begged me). The event does NOTHING to promote the rubbing of swine-producing elbows amongst a diverse group of producers. The pigs from last year's event came from several larger area producers. None of the myriad of smaller producers were involved, and the reality is that all 3 pigs were pretty darn close to having similar genetics.

The bemoaning of the "loss" of Cochon sounds an awful lot like whining because the NYT failed to write yet another glowing article about Portland. Cochon is a traveling circus of marketing, not the Salone del Gusto in Turino!!

Good riddance.

Now, if someone were to really want to host an event truly comparing different breeds & production styles, I'd be MORE than happy to toss our pigs in the ring....

And, just to be clear - Bechard's behavior was inexcusable. I may agree with some of his points, but those could have been brought up well before a late-night migration to Happy Garden.

#5 ExtraMSG

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 06:01 PM

Let's get one fact straight: Magic Garden. Boobs and cheap booze vs bad chinese and cheap booze. ;-)

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

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Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#6 Calabrese

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Posted 18 January 2011 - 07:51 PM

Swine are swine whether they are name Bechard or Lowe or Porky the Pig.

#7 Quo Vadis

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 08:43 AM

Thistle has been championed by The Oregonian's David Sarasohn, whose unwillingness to think past the end of his fork has led him to praise Thistle in print and to downplay Bechard's loutishness - and undoubtedly helped Thistle's revenues to boot.


Never mind that to base a review on anything other than your actual experience in the restaurant is completely unethical, eh?
I'm sorry Pinotguy, but what you are advocating here is just wrong.
Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances-Hume

#8 BigDaddy

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 09:12 AM

Swine are swine whether they are name Bechard or Lowe or Porky the Pig.

That Arnold Ziffel was a mighty charming pig, but my wife has a crush on Babe.

#9 dagrassroots

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 10:38 AM

When Locavores Attack
Portland Loses Cochon 555


by Robert Wolfe
pinotguy@oregonpinotnoir.com


Many of you heard about the chef-kerfuffle here last spring, when local-loco chef Eric Bechard of Thistle Restaurant in McMinnville fought with Brady Lowe, organizer of the grand pig-fest known as Cochon 555 (in which I participated as a local judge for the last two years). It made the Portland food scene a national headline item again . . . only this time, for unsavory reasons. Bechard objected to the use of a pig raised in a state other than Oregon. Although Bechard had no connection to the event, he got drunk and then violent and then garnered some publicity.

That's bad enough. But now word is that Bechard's restaurant is humming with business, and that he promotes his eatery by relying on the tales of his drunken hooliganism - as if it were something to be proud of, instead of something perverse and dangerous.

In the intervening months, Lowe has propelled the Cochon event to even greater heights. What started out as a small project to raise money for some non-profits in a few cities has blossomed into the darling event of foodies nationwide. The focus is on heritage breed pigs, and all the glorious butchery, bacon and meaty goodness that go along with the raising of swine. Cochon has now become a nationally-known event with major sponsors and top chefs in participation.

Along the way, Lowe has created an awareness of heritage breed swine, promoted small farmers, artisanal butchers, great chefs and wineries, and knit all of those into a grand community that produces nothing but positive results for everyone involved. Even desperate Eric Bechard, forced to promote his cookery via fistacuffs and bluster, gets a win out of this. Thistle has been championed by The Oregonian's David Sarasohn, whose unwillingness to think past the end of his fork has led him to praise Thistle in print and to downplay Bechard's loutishness - and undoubtedly helped Thistle's revenues to boot.

But Portland loses. Our town will not host a Cochon event in 2011, our chefs will be left out of the community being built by this marquee event, and our swine-raisers won't meet their kindred from other states. Cochon spokespeople don't want to draw a straight line between Lowe's broken leg and Portland's exclusion from the festivities, but I'm willing to draw the obvious conclusion: Bechard wins, Portland loses. How is that right?

Localism in food is a good thing. Being a locavore is a noble aspiration. But when it surpasses the boundaries of reasonable passion and becomes the only possible ideal above all others, it then becomes perverse and inexplicably irrational. In Bechard's case, it also becomes dangerous dogma with violent consequences.

Give me all-local veggies, meats, and salmon, please. But I'll take my Jamon Iberico from Spain, my French wine should come from France, and I like my coffee beans from Indonesia - I'll pay extra for air freight.

I will not ever pay for a meal at Thistle, however. In my opinion, neither should you.



This is a first world problem.

#10 Quo Vadis

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 11:30 AM

This is a first world problem.


Reading blogs that complain about first world problems so you can complain that they are complaining about first world problems is also a first world problem is it not?

Not sure I understand your point... ?
Methinks I am like a man, who having struck on many shoals, and having narrowly escap'd shipwreck in passing a small frith, has yet the temerity to put out to sea in the same leaky weather-beaten vessel, and even carries his ambition so far as to think of compassing the globe under these disadvantageous circumstances-Hume

#11 dagrassroots

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 01:33 PM


This is a first world problem.


Reading blogs that complain about first world problems so you can complain that they are complaining about first world problems is also a first world problem is it not?

Not sure I understand your point... ?


Not complaining, I was making an observation that this topic is, as the great Murphy Lee state "It's bougie baby!"

First world problems are problems that people in Hati could not fathom complaining about. To be clear, i'm not saying first world problems are not real or valid, I just mention this to put in perspective pinot dudes "boycott".

Some other examples of first world problems I have copied from a web site:

I'm so out of shape that I'm very sore from playing sports games on the Xbox kinect.
I want to go to Whole Foods for pizza and hard cider. But it's so far away! Like 30 minutes!
My omni roommate ate my Vegan Treats doughnut.
I didn't get one of those Ben Bernanke ties :(
Vertigo while swimming in the infinity pools
The embarrassment when the ramp agent says "Have a nice flight" and you auto respond, "You too!"

Feel free to join in.

#12 gal4giants

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 03:20 PM

this boo hoo poor Portland makes me laugh, which today I welcome.

#13 jennifer

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 03:53 PM

Here, this should make Pinotguy's day:

From Portland Monthly Eat Beat: "5 questions for wine country wizard ERIC BECHARD"

http://www.portlandm...or Eric Bechard

#14 polloelastico

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 04:29 PM

Feel free to join in.

"I can't believe that fucking place went out of business before I could use my Groupon."
“Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” — George Carlin

#15 ExtraMSG

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 04:33 PM


This is a first world problem.


Reading blogs that complain about first world problems so you can complain that they are complaining about first world problems is also a first world problem is it not?

Not sure I understand your point... ?


New blog idea: "what white people bitch about".

The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

Nick Zukin, Mi Mero Mole

Co-Author, Artisan Jewish Deli at Home

Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#16 dagrassroots

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 04:34 PM


Feel free to join in.

"I can't believe that fucking place went out of business before I could use my Groupon."


"The strawberry flavored condom tastes like raspberry."
"Edible gold flakes are so 1999"

#17 pinotguy

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Posted 19 January 2011 - 10:42 PM

I appreciate all the comments, and variously agree and disagree with them. Bechard may have already been punished in some manner, and may not need additional punishment for his behavior the night of the event, I agree. But to use boorish behavior as a promotional vehicle is beyond the pale, and it makes my wallet snap shut with contempt. If he had made any sort of public mea culpa and moved on to simply cook, that's one thing. To post his mug shot from the newspaper in the window of his eatery is another.

I did read one piece by him, here: http://www.oregonwin...wSectionID=2527

But, that's no apology, nor even an expression of regret. Instead, it's more of a "they were drunk too, so who really cares" kinda statement.

Is Cochon simply a fluffy promotional event? Yeah, but that's what the food and wine industries thrive on, and what helps keep me --and a bunch of you all - employed. I've got no beef with that, to mix my meat metaphors. It was a fun event, with very enthusiastic participants, that resulted in some amazing food. Fluffy, promotional, and tasty. I've got no info on unpaid bills or other stuff, so cannot address that.

I will be heading to Seattle as a judge, and several Oregon wineries are now part of the touring show. In the meantime, a local event with all-local pigs that are raised to maturity is a great idea. I'd participate in that one, too.


Pinotguy Bob

#18 nervousxtian

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Posted 21 January 2011 - 05:08 AM

Drinking and Boobs have been the downfall of many men.

Just sayin'

#19 HogFarmer

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Posted 22 January 2011 - 03:01 PM

I raise hogs and sell to several Portland chefs so my income and the future of my business are intertwined with the ongoing demand for premium quality pork in Portland. I have turned down two invitations to participate in Cochon 555 events, including the 2011 event in Seattle because Cochon 555 dilutes the integrity of our food culture. From a hog producer's point of view, Pig Nut's earlier reply to Pinot Guy's post outlined most of the problems with the Cochon program. As a way of comparison, Pinot Guy, how about we have a big fancy Pinot event and insist that the wine be judged before the fermentation process is complete? And advertise it as a celebration of Willamette Valley wines but then have 60% of the featured wine be from hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. If someone this ignorant about wine and the Oregon wine scene put on a similarly ham-handed (Punny!) wine event, the wine crowd would have chased him back to Atlanta after the first year.

Last May, I called Eric Bechard immediately after seeing his mug shot on the Willamette Week site to chide him for resorting to violence and to thank him for finally calling bullshit on Cochon 555. Then I booked a table at Thistle for my wife, myself, and a couple of friends for the following night. (Great meal, had some Yamhill County pork!) During our conversation Eric was apologetic for his tactics and the bad light it brought on the Portland food scene. He didn't back off an inch from his position on the flummery that is Cochon 555's promotion of local hog producers. His words to me were very similar to this quote from a Willamette Week post. "…. I apologize to everyone involved…. I own a business here and I’m very Oregon-centric, maybe to a fault. I’m not going to withdraw any of my statements. The fact that an Iowa pig won the event was ironic since we were in a room of Oregon farmers.” So much for never apologizing, right Pinot Guy?

I get the point about all of our food/wine businesses benefiting from fluffy promotional events. However, we should all insist that when the fluff is removed the foundation is solid. From this hog farmer's point of view, Cochon 555 fails the test.

#20 Calabrese

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 11:02 AM

As a way of comparison, Pinot Guy, how about we have a big fancy Pinot event and insist that the wine be judged before the fermentation process is complete? And advertise it as a celebration of Willamette Valley wines but then have 60% of the featured wine be from hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. If someone this ignorant about wine and the Oregon wine scene put on a similarly ham-handed (Punny!) wine event, the wine crowd would have chased him back to Atlanta after the first year.


Now that is not only punny, but it's funny and quite apropos.