Do you have your tickets for Sunday’s COCHON555? That’s the Minneapolis round of the national cooking competition that celebrates heritage pork; there are tons of events all weekend and it should be a great time.
But there’s more news to this year’s event than just superlative hog cookery and a new generation battling for the crown that Corner Table’s Thomas Boemer snagged last year. Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer of the Chef Shack team aren’t just using their everyday restaurant crew to compete, they have assembled an all female supergroup of top chefs and are calling themselves the Crackling Contessas. Not only will they be competing for Cochon555, but they'll be promoting the Crackling Contessas as a team which plans to lead local industry women to ever-greater heights with more networking events, including a training session this August from a group which has never had a Minnesota event before, the national Women Chefs & Restauranteurs (WCR).
After COCHON555, and before the WCR event this summer, Lisa Carlson will be traveling to San Francisco to cook with Dominique Crenn of the reknowned Atelier Crenn, and to spread the news of Minnesota’s great female chefs to one of the top chefs in our fair nation.
So, meet the supergroup! It’s Minneapolis’ super-baker Michelle Gayer of The Salty Tart, (also the former Charlie Trotter pastry chef and cookbook co-author, and constant James Beard Award nominee for best chef Midwest—when she doesn’t even have a restaurant). Hannah Benti, the chef de cuisine of Brava Ethiopian Cuisine. Tammy Wong, founding mother of beloved Rainbow Chinese. And Beth Fisher, the whole animal expert chef of local farm-food destination Wise Acre Eatery.
The question did occur to me: Why an all-female supergroup, when your cooking team at Chef Shack obviously knows you so well? “That’s easy. Lisa’s very competitive, and she wanted to win,” explained Carrie Summer. So that means Michelle Gayer on pastry, Tammy Wong on bones, Hannah Benti for standout spice (Carlson says Ethiopian is actually her favorite cuisine), and Beth Fisher for deep whole-hog knowledge. “We’re all so enthusiastic,” says Summer. “I wish you could be a fly on the wall and just hear the ladies talking about building flavors, and then just raving about the bones and the brains—Tammy Wong was just about drooling. ‘The brains, can we get the brains?’ Her eyes get really big. ‘I want all the bones!’”
Summer and Carlson were motivated to start working more actively with female chefs after our magazine's last best restaurant issue, in which the top restaurants' chefs, all men, were placed on the cover (this was after Lucia Watson sold her restaurant and before Jamie Malone opened her new place. Jamie Malone obsessives: Current Brut opening date may be June, and Malone will be judging Cochon555, along with notables including our own Stephanie March.) “We call it cover-gate,” laughs Carlson. “It’s what brought us together, but we’ve done so many things since then, it’s a lot now about showcasing the excellence of the female chefs in town.” In fact, the WCR event this summer will be not about gender per se, but about sustainability.
Crackling Contessas—first a big competition pig, next recycling? Well there’s something to be said that using the bones and brains is a sustainability initiative—so keep your eyes out Sunday for brains and eggs. And if you’re a graphic designer who is in the mood to trade some design work for a whole lot of Chef Shack’s famous mini donuts, reach out to Lisa and Carrie—this supergroup of Crackling Contessas would seem to need a good t-shirt design.