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James Beard Awards, Cochon555 COVID-19 updates: 'One hand giveth (no awards), the other taketh (out pork)'

Cochon555 is back (and boxed)

Cochon555 is back (and boxed) Cochon555 / Instagram

When last we thought about Minnesota’s nominees for the James Beard Awards, we were rooting for local chefs Diane Moua, Jamie Malone, Christina Nguyen, and Steven Brown, plus tiny den of finery Demi. 

But early on Thursday, the Foundation announced an unprecedented plan to discontinue the awards process for the Year of Our Dumpster Fire, 2020. James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach chose different words, of course, to highlight the org's choice to abandon ceremony for the first time in 30 years. 

“The uncertainty of this time for our industry is already a hard reality and considering anyone to have won or lost within the current tumultuous hospitality ecosystem does not in fact feel like the right thing to do,” wrote Reichenbach in a statement, the full version of which on the Foundation’s website.

“The choice comes as restaurants continue to suffer the grave negative effects of COVID-19, and as substantial and sustained upheaval in the community has created an environment in which the Foundation believes the assignment of Awards will do little to further the industry in its current uphill battle.”

In short: None of this year’s honorees will make it to the top of the podium. 

…Nor will 2021 be recognizable in James Beard Country, either. (More and more voices suggest this is a good thing.) The Foundation will pause “traditional” awards in the next year to conduct an audit in tandem with an outside social justice agency in order “to overhaul the policies and procedures.” The objective is to “remove any systemic bias, increase the diversity of the pool of candidates, maintain relevance, and align the Awards more outwardly with the Foundation’s values of equity, equality, sustainability, and excellence for the restaurant industry.” Simultaneously, this gap year gives its board a beat to get their bearings when it comes to separating the wheat from the chaff, given the "catastrophic effects" COVID-19 has wrought upon restaurants (particularly fine dining).  

All that said, on September 25, previously announced winners in the categories of America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon, and Leadership Awards will be honored in a virtual ceremony broadcast live on Twitter. In addition to highlighting the previously announced nominees, the Foundation intends to harness the power of storytelling about “the historic challenges this community faces and how we can work together to rebuild a stronger and more equitable restaurant industry.” 

Applaud as you see fit?

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Meanwhile, the folks over at Cochon555, the nation's largest annual fancy heritage pork party, also popped in Thursday with a pretty big update of their own. 

Rather than canceling the hootenanny in light of COVID-19, they've swerved to keep the tradition rolling – even though some may say the reborn shindig sounds a little wacky on paper.

Its new name? Carryout with Cochon555.

Yes, you read that right. After the original round of festivities was delayed due to the coronavirus’s arrival, including its Minneapolis event (first scheduled for March 29, 2020) among others, the re-launched version of Cochon555’s Minneapolis event will take place on September 10 and involve… the same really ancient breed, top tier chefs, and lotsa boxes. 

Hey, we can’t knock the effort! 

“Regretfully, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our lives and community, we recognized we could not produce our event tour as we had hoped,” said Brett Friedman (Partner & CEO of Agency 21 Consulting, which owns/operates Cochon555) via emailed statement. “As a result, we decided to create a carry out program with an online component as a creative alternative for our fan base while supporting local restaurateurs, and raising awareness for Heritage breed pigs.”

The evening’s six-course carryout meal will be prepared by a whiz bang lineup of local celebrity chefs including Chandra Walbolt of Union Hmong Kitchen, Steven Brown from Saint Genevieve and Tilia, Jorge Guzman of Petite León and Pollo Pollo al Carbón, Jametta Raspberry from House of Gristle, Jose Alcaron of ViV!R, and the 2018’s Grand Cochon winner Karyn Tomlinson. Iron Shoe Farms will be providing local, sustainably sourced ingredients, in addition to the main attraction: that Heritage breed pig. 

Tickets provide access to a live Zoom with all six chefs demonstrating “culinary wizardry” and “interactive culinary demos,” plus a custom collaborative menu, one bottle of red or white wine from Patz & Hall, two White Claws, and one mocktail featuring LaCroix sparkling water. Prices start at $115 per person, and kits can be picked up at Saint Genevieve. For an additional $30, someone will deliver your food to you (though the fine print says “certain dishes will be pre-prepared and ready to heat and/or serve”?). 

For a look at the full menu, and to purchase tickets to the September 10 event, check out Carryout With Cochon555.