Seared pork belly ... mmmm

Seared pork belly … mmmm

Throughout one’s life growing up in Kentucky, hearing the words “festival” and “pork” combined in a single phrase led one to assume barbecue or pork chop sandwiches were on the menu.

Thank God we’ve learned to treat and eat our pork with more even flavor and finesse while still maintaining the fun of a festival. If you don’t know what I mean, see for yourself at the second-annual Butchertown Porktoberfest on Friday, Oct. 10, 5-10 p.m.

That’s when 16 restaurants, dessert makers and foodservice organizations will create and serve some divine swine, compete for cash and please the palates of a crowd of at least a few thousand. Sure, those chefs like seeing your grease-smeared grins, but they’re also seeking the smiles of presidents on printed on greenbacks—$3,000 total be exact.

When planning last year’s inaugural event, organizers had no idea how many hungry folks would show. When the crowds cleared and the grills cooled, they estimated 2,500 people visited Porktoberfest in five hours.

“We definitely didn’t have our expectations set that high,” said Andy Cornelius, president of the Butchertown Neighborhood Association. He expects Porktoberfest will draw an even larger crowd to the courtyard of Copper & Kings distillery (1111 East Washington St.) next month. “We expect it will build on the success of last year. It could be big.”

That’s what Joshua Lehman hopes. Not only does he like feeding a crowd, the executive chef at Holy Grale is pumped that several “heavy hitter” restaurants and chefs will participate in the pork battle. Lehman took the top prize of $1,000 last year.

“It’s a good, friendly competition, but I have to admit it’s exciting to see some serious restaurants coming there,” Lehman said. “When you see people like Annie (Pettry, executive chef at Decca) and Feast BBQ coming, that’s cool. You really have to do your best.”

In addition to Holy Grale, the still-growing list of competitors includes Morels, Cellar Door Chocolates, Jack Knife, Harvest, RYE, Wiltshire On Market, The Troll Pub, Farm to Fork Catering, Feast BBQ, Lilly’s, Decca, Stellar Sweets, Atria, Red Cherry Apron, The Bristol Bar & Grille and The Monkey Wrench.

Proof that Porktoberfest is no de rigueur pig out, Lehman’s 2013 winner was a sandwich built on scratch-made Asian steamed buns with seared pork belly, house-made kimchee and cilantro.

Pork belly on steamed bun

Chef Josh Lehman’s pork belly on steamed bun

“We made around 1,000 of the buns, which took three days and two different people working constantly on them,” Lehman said. “Sometimes people come to these events with a big pot of something or a pile of something deep-fried. But I like to put a little bit extra into it and challenge ourselves.”

Unlike most culinary competitions, the audience gets a say at this one. According to Cornelius, attendees will receive ballots and pencils to record votes for their favorites and drop those ballots into boxes. Judges will taste all entries and will judge on the criteria of taste, presentation and originality. At 9:30 that night, the results will be announced.

Of five cash prizes awarded, the Judges Choice is still the largest at $1,000, but other $500 awards are given for categories for People’s Choice, Best Vegetarian, Most Creative and Best Dessert.

Yes, best pork-inspired dessert.

What those will be are anyone’s guess as chefs are keeping their ideas secret until the competition begins. But you can assume with Cellar Door Chocolates involved, something crazy-good is on the way.

Admission to Porktoberfest is free, and tastes of each dish cost $2. (You might be challenged to taste all 16, but judges must taste all entries.)

Not a meat eater? No worries. There will be vegetarian treats, too.

“Feast BBQ has had barbecued tofu since it opened, and it’s worked for them,” Lehman said.

Apocalypse Brew Works will supply the beer and Copper & Kings will serve cocktails made from its brandy selection.

Billy Goat Strut Revue

Billy Goat Strut Revue

Billy Goat Strut Revue will bring the live swing music. Cool band, by the way. I saw them recently at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, and they provided a really refreshing change from classic rock covers.

Cornelius said Butchertown has enjoyed a lot of success with its annual summer Art Fair, but he said organizers of Porktoberfest felt the need to add a food-centered event reflecting the neighborhood’s history and name. After just one year, he’s convinced it’s got a winner.

“The heritage of the neighborhood was small, local famers bringing their animals here to butchered, and everyone had a direct relationship with their butcher back then,” Cornelius said, referring to a bygone time of at least 50 years ago. “Now we’re supporting local restaurants and the food chain connected to those businesses that way. Plus we’ve got a community that wants to volunteer and put this on and really add to the neighborhood.”