Chef Nicole Gajadhar, Saxon + Parole, New York City 

Chefs are the creative tastemakers of the Cochon555 tour. As part of our new Spotlight series for guests past and present, we take you behind the scenes for a Q&A with those who provide the delicious bites for our competition. Meet winning Chef Nicole Gajadhar from our New York City event.

Can you give us a quick rundown of the theme behind your winning Cochon555 menu?

The dishes on the menu were inspired by my life – different times, different places. Many of the flavors come from my family heritage (we’re Indian!) and via my childhood growing up in Trinidad. But I also wanted to channel the many many years I’ve spent here in New York so I tried to bring all those experiences together into one menu. For example, the LES Eggroll dish was a mash up of the time I lived on New York’s Lower East Side (thinking about Chinatown and Katz Deli) alongside memories of my grandmother’s aromatic cabbage.

Also, when I think of pigs in general, for some reason the visual of a pink pig in a tutu twirling around comes to mind. The image lent itself to the design of my plates as well as the table décor into a sort of turn-of-the-century carnival theme complete with puffy pink cotton candy.

Why is  heritage breed pork special for you – and how would you describe its flavor to the uninitiated?

I’m a big believer is championing agriculture that is working to preserve natural livestock and breeds that would otherwise go extinct. So working with heritage pork has been a dream and I can only feel lucky to support these farmers who are raising these important breeds so the next generation can have the opportunity to taste some of the best pork in the world.

The minute you look at a heritage breed pig, you can visually see the difference. It has a richer, darker color and there’s more marbling with the higher fat content. The smell is so robust and earthy and the flavor is incredibly intense. You can taste exactly what the animal ate and that comes through in every dish. The mean is extremely juice, very earthy and is somewhat creamy – it just melts in your mouth.

Choose your best pork memory and describe it for us.

I have many pork memories, but there’s one that always stands out. When I was a child growing up in Trinidad, my grandparents had a farm where they raised pigs. My family is Hindu so pork is never on the menu, but my grandfather did make it once a year and he absolutely loves pork. He would cut the pork up into cubes and make curried pork. As a little girl, the piles of meat, fat and skin were confusing – I didn’t know what I was supposed to eat. I would watch my grandfather as he ate everything and one time sitting on his lap I asked him which parts I was supposed to eat. He told me that I’m supposed to eat everything and not to waste one ounce of this beautiful animal. But then I asked, “What about all that fat?” My grandfather responded, “That’s the flavor, Nicole!” My grandfather is still alive today and eating pork once a year and I attribute my love of pork to him and that very moment.

Join Chef Nicole at Grand Cochon on October 1st in Chicago as she represents New York City! Don’t sleep on the best party of the year!