It sounds like the opening of a joke – A Hungarian pig, an Italian recipe and a South Korean Chef meet in a bar – but the pig roast at BIGA in San Diego was nothing to laugh at. There were however plenty of grins as Chef/Owner, Tae Dickey demonstrated his take on an Italian classic Porchetta Roll. Then the afternoon unfolded into a foodies dream. Six acclaimed chefs incorporated pork into eight tasting courses. Delicious ciders from Bivouac and Duck Foot Brewing’s gluten-free beers were on tap. Regal Wines poured Italian vintages. While culinary culture took a turn away from tradition, satisfaction was definitely served.
This was the third BIGA pig roast and there was no doubt the event would be memorable given the chefs in attendance. There was Davin Waite from Wrench and Rodent. Whenever he shows up get ready for inspired bites. Willy Eick of Mission Bar and Grill has mastered the art of blending traditions deliciously. Carlos Rodriguez, chef de cuisine at BIGA, stirs his Texan roots and Puerto Rican influences in uniquely apt ways.
Evan Cruz of Arterra flavors his creations with a Filipino twist. Johnny Dolan of The Lion’s Share was instrumental in bringing it all together. Pastry Innovator, Kristianna Zabala of Split Bake House presented a plateful of tasty textures in a petite dessert flan laced with lard. But the star performance was Tae Dickey’s Porchetta Roll and the demonstration of his signature dish. You’ll find it on the menu every Saturday at BIGA.
Chef Dickey is no stranger to culinary culture clashes. He was born in South Korea but moved to Italy with his family as a teenager. He attended the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York before opening BIGA three years ago. Those Italian years branded his cooking sensibilities but he’s not reverent about sticking with tradition. Before the anniversary meal progressed he summoned the crowd to a table near the entry windows. A large tray held a side of pork nest to a row of porcine steaks and a bowl of savory greens. Slapping the smooth pork side, Dickey confessed that “Italians tell you to beat the hell out of that skin” but he doesn’t. His secret is sprinkling baking soda over the surface lightly. “As we learned in chemistry class, baking soda is a natural tenderizer,” then he cautioned that after a few hours it’s important to wipe the soda off. Porchetta is traditionally done with pork loin but Chef Dickey favors a Heritage Breed, the Mangalista Pig.
These pigs are nothing to laugh at either. They grow large and wooly and were originally bred in Hungary, becoming one of the fattest pigs in the world. The rush to Communism almost led to their extinction as meatier breeds became popular. Luckily with recent trends towards all things bacon, demand for the pigs has crossed culinary culture borders. Of course, American farmers were curious and a few are raising these porcine wonders. Near Buellton, California at the Winfield Farm big, curly Mangalitsa Pigs have taken over.
Owners Bruce and Diane Steele were growing organic vegetables when they decided to add a few pigs. The idea was to feed them with their unmarketable castoffs and past date veggies. They scooped up the acorns growing on their acres of ranchland to finish off the pigs’ diet before going to market. It worked too well as the pigs flourished and then drought conditions hampered their farming. Today they create a range of products including Leaf Lard, which is the highest grade and lower in saturated fat than other animals. It’s also higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. If that’s hard to swallow remember that that’s the same kind of fat that gives olive oil its healthy reputation.
Perhaps you’ll visit Hungary where the pigs have made a healthy comeback. They’ve rebounded from a few hundred to over 50,000 and are featured in everything from family style to haute cuisine dishes. Since 2007, an annual Mangalica Festival promotes products and hog farmers. The Festival in Budapest celebrates with cooking competitions, dozens of Mangalica dishes and over 100 exhibitors. It’s become one of the biggest gastro events of the year. Held in February it’s also one of the coldest but this year Palinka, a strong Hungarian drink will be showcased. The drink is distilled from a selection of local fruits that include apricot, cherry, apples, plums, and pears. If I were there I’d sip the Elderflower and spiced versions but pace myself. With 40 to 50% alcoholic content it’s sure to warm up festival crowds.
The Festival is held in a plaza near the riverside Parliament building. The location makes it east to attend by public transportation, train, and even riverboat. For tips about getting around Budapest see this earlier post.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this adventure in culinary cuisine and will share it with your friends or bookmark it for future reference.