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It was a celebration of all things pork at Cochon555 on Sunday, March 8 as five of New York’s top chefs went head to head in a friendly competition for the title of “Prince of Pork” and a chance to represent the city in the grand championship later this year.

Chef Louis Bayla, Chef de Cuisine at Little Park in Tribeca, emerged victorious after the dual judge/guest vote was tallied.

 “I’m surprised, honestly,” Bayla told the Asian Journal. “I’m very competitive and I was cooking against my former mentor Bryan Hunt who is extremely talented as well as the other chefs.”

This one-of-a-kind culinary tour features five chefs cooking five heritage breed pigs with Chef Louis using a 220-pound Red Wattle from Heritage Foods USA to come up with his menu. The chefs honor the animal and its history by utilizing each pig in its entirety from snout to tail.

Bayla prepared five dishes: sinigang wrapped in cabbage (using loin and bones); pancit palabok (shoulder, butt and skin); sisig (head, belly and offals), adobo pork rib (ribs and liver) and halo halo (trotter, knuckle and skin).

The five chefs were judged and scored on utilization, technique, and overall flavor and guests voted for their “best bite of the day.”  Bayla’s sommelier partner Anna Christina Cabrales of Morell won Somm Smackdown, a face-off of five top sommeliers pairing the best wine with heritage pig.

Sommelier Anna Christina Cabrales of Morell Wine Bar also won the “Somm Smackdown” competition featuring some of the 50 city’s top sommeliers who were each challenged with pairing the best wines from around the globe to the dishes prepared by the competing chefs.

“I’ve cooked fine dining for a very long time. As Filipinos, we were born to do snout to tail cooking on pigs and I wanted to showcase that pride we have,” he shared.

Bayla’s creativity and innovation were evident and well-executed, particularly the infusion of pork into his dessert, the traditional halo halo.

“Jello is made with gelatin, an animal product so I wanted to try and make gelatin myself. I also love sago so we just kept on experimenting. So lucky that it worked out,” he said.

For this victory, he is thankful to his team who supported him all the way, including the Filipino sous chefs he works with: Ramon Amaut and Criselda Chuan, Angela Pinto and Isak Buan and Kevin Woods, executive sous chef at Locanda Verde.

Chef Bayla served halo halo with jello made out of the heritage pig’s trotters and knuckles with crispy chicharron bits. | Photo by Max Flatow Photography/COCHON 555

As the “Prince of Pork” of New York City, Bayla will advance to the national finale, Grand Cochon, a head-to-tail, winner-takes-all showdown for the crown and the title “King or Queen of Pork” later this year.

New York is the third stop in the nine-city tour, connecting quality-driven diners with family farmers, chefs, winemakers, restaurateurs, brewers, and distillers while contributing to a local charity. Cochon555 celebrates and promotes heritage breed pigs and transparency through safe, honest food ways. Most of these pigs are raised naturally on family farms without the use of antibiotics or steroids.

12 years and counting

 Bayla worked as executive sous chef at Locanda Verde for three years before moving to his current post at Little Park in 2017 as its Chef de Cuisine. Both restaurants are under the NoHo Hospitality Group of James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Andrew Carmellini.

Chef Louis also previously worked as sous chef under Tom Colicchio at Riverpark, as tournant at Joel Robuchon, saucier at Gramercy Tavern and lead cook at Le Cirque.

He was seven years old when he moved to the United States along with his family. His parents, Romy and Vicky are both from Laguna.

He remembers he always loved to cook, even as a 9-year-old. His favorite back then? Regular Italian-style spaghetti using fresh tomatoes.

 “My fondest food memory is eating kamayan in the Philippines when I was a kid and my family cooked lechon. We used banana leaves as plates,” he shared.

In college, he tried nursing and economics in his freshman year and hated it, so he signed up for culinary school the following semester and started in the food industry as a dishwasher.

Sipag, yun ang importante. Basta dapat masipag,” he quipped.

I first heard of his name back in 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan ravaged some provinces in the eastern side of the Philippines. Chef Tom Colicchio’s group sent us a press release announcing that Riverpark, one of their restaurants was offering Filipino dishes in addition to their regular lunch and dinner menus to support victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

They did this because a handful of their employees then, including two of their sous chefs, have family in the Philippines. Chef Louis, along with his fellow sous chef Carlos Benedicto created Filipino dishes inspired by the food they grew up eating, including a seafood sinigang, palabok and longanisa dog.

 Then last year, Bayla shared his talent and supported another Filipino-led charity called Advancement for Rural Kids (ARK) for their annual fundraiser.

Learning from his mentors

Bayla is now on his third year as the chef de cuisine of Little Park, a Tribeca staple and a seasonal restaurant highlighting the best ingredients from longtime partnerships with local farmers, anglers, vintners, ranchers and foragers.

 Peak ingredients like organic vegetables, free-range poultry, grass-fed meats, line-caught fish and heirloom grains are sourced for their level of quality, sustainability and nutrition.

 “I like to use heritage pork, they have a specific diet and graze in open pastures,” he shared at the sidelines of the culinary foodfest.

 For Cochon555, he was given a Red Wattle, a breed originating from New Caledonia, which gets its name from its red color and the fleshy skin that hangs under its jowls. Most of these heritage breed pigs are raised on family farms without the use of steroids and antibiotics.

 After culinary school, Bayla thought about his career path, starting as a dishwasher.

Chef Louis

 He tried to map his journey and chose his work and mentors wisely. So far, he has worked with New York’s best from Gramercy Tavern to Locanda Verde and from Colicchio to Carmellini and in the kitchens of Le Cirque and Joel Robuchon.

 “Yung mga ginagamit ko ngayon na techniques, natutunan ko sa kanila. Yung iba, from my own experiments. Tikim lang din ako ng tikim, kung ano yung natatandaan ko sa nanay ko,” he shared.

 His mom, Vicky confirmed Chef Louis’ inclination in cooking as a young boy and added that among his favorites are the basics: pancit and adobo. Back in the Philippines, some of his relatives from his mother’s side run a panciteria in Laguna while an uncle on his father’s side runs Asiong’s in Cavite.

 Chef Louis tries to include some Filipino ingredients in the dishes he creates, like calamansi, which for him brings subtle nuances to certain dishes. For example, he used preserved calamansi for their razor clams ceviche, providing the dish a little kilawin flavor profile.

 In the pipeline is a restaurant of his own, a dream that he wants to fulfill once he is ready.

 “Marami akong mga kaibigan na nagluluto sa mga malalaking restaurants, lahat nasa background lang ngayon,” he said, hopeful and wistful that someday, they will all get to achieve their dreams.

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