May 17th, 2010 | by KELLY CLARKE Food & Drink |

FOOD FIGHT: Chef and Foodie Come to Blows Over Pig Breeds After Cochon 555

Updated with Police Report, Brady Lowe's and Chef Bechard's comments.

Eric Bechard and Brady Lowe mug shots

Image: Chef Eric Bechard's and Cochon 555 founder Brady Lowe's police booking photos from early morning Monday, May 17.

•••UPDATE 6:30 pm Tuesday, May 18. Check out the full pig fight police report, here, now complete with quasi-illuminating WW commentary.•••

Last night's Cochon 555 event, an epic gustatory battle where five local chefs prepare eats from five different heritage pig breeds, boasted a little bit of everything, from pig-ear coleslaw and pig-heart ravioli to drunken head-butts, a chef being ejected from a local bar and a pair of food-industry pros being arrested by the cops after a brawl over local vs. out-of-state pigs.

•••UPDATE 10 am Tuesday, May 18: The melee also landed Cochon 555 event founder Brady Lowe in the hospital with a fractured tibia today. I also had a chance to speak with chef/head-butter Eric Bechard and have updated the text to reflect his side of the story as well. UPDATE 3 pm Tuesday, May 18: Spoke with Brady Lowe and have updated the text to reflect his story.•••

Olympic Provisions chef Jason Barwikowski was the big winner last night, taking home the title of Prince of Porc with his ravioli in broth, pork-belly niblets and tasty banh mi sandwiches all made from a Red Wattle pig from Iowa's Koerperich Farm. The biggest loser? Former Alberta Street Oyster House chef Eric Bechard and Cochon 555 founder Brady Lowe. According to multiple witnesses, Bechard, chef/co-owner of the lauded new Thistle restaurant in McMinnville, started was in a fistfight with Lowe outside Magic Garden, an Old Town strip joint (reports conflict on who started the fight). Earlier in the evening, Bechard head-butted Elk Cove Vineyards' Craig Hedstrom before being dragged out of the Cochon 555 afterparty at Davis Street Tavern by none other than notorious chef and city-suing firefighter Tom Hurley. Bechard, an attendee at the food event, was angry that Lowe had allowed a pig from Iowa (the winning pig, in fact) to be used as part of the Portland Cochon 555 competition.

We'll get back to the police drama in a sec, but here's the crux of the high-minded pig battle:

"I thought there was more than adequate number of farmers [here] to pull pigs [for Cochon 555] from Oregon. I told that to local chefs involved in the event," says Bechard, who admits that he was in both fights, but says he was not the instigator of either brawl. He says that he didn't ever speak to Lowe during the event or after-party. "They are self-promoting this event and their [out-of-town] farmers. It should have promoted our farmers."

Brady says that's crazy: "The way this event works is that we are nationally providing a venue for heritage breed pigs to raise awareness. It's a local event based on the chefs and wines. What I do is to bring people together who should know each other," the Atlanta based food education pro told WW. Brady and his crew spent most of Tuesday getting ready to drive to Seattle for the next Cochon event, which takes place next week (he holds TK Cochon events this year, total). "It confuses me. If Jason [Barwikowski] wins [Cochon 555] with a Red Wattle pig and it's from Iowa there's a good chance that Northwestern farmers will start seeing that breed as one to raise."



I'm playing phone tag with Lowe right now and Bechard to get their (see updates) to get his side of the story, but According to Multnomah County Sheriff's Office records, both men were arrested early Monday morning. Lowe was arrested by the Portland Police at 1:56 am for disorderly conduct and interfering with a peace officer. Bechard was arrested at 2:27 am for disorderly conduct, harassment and interfering with a peace officerl. Both have been released.

Cue an ear-splitting roar of food-industry gossipers exchanging stories and a massive battle of he said/he said/he-said:

"Yes, there was a head-butt," confirms Hedstrom, the national sales manager for Gaston's Elk Cove Vineyards, one of five wineries that poured vino at Cochon 555. "Toward the end of of event, after Olympic Provisions was declared the winner, I was walking by Eric. I said, 'Hey man, we should get you involved in the event next year [Hedstrom is close to Lowe and invited Barwikowski and Nostrana's Cathy Whims to battle at this year's event]. He responded with a lot of cuss words and that he'd never be part of an event that had the winner use a pig from Iowa. It was the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

Bechard says that Hedstrom is lying and has had a beef with him for years, stemming from a long-ago pickup basketball game. After hearing that the chef was questioning the use of Iowa pigs, Bechard says Hedstrom came up to him and said, "Why do you always have to be such a pretentious prick?" He also says Hedstrom was throwing elbows at Davis Street before the head-butting incident.

Hedstrom continues: "[Later, at the after-party] I was sharing a glass of champagne with [Nostrana chef] Cathy Whims. As I walked to the bathroom, Bechard elbowed me in the chest. I said, ‘What the fuck are you doing?” and he leaned in and head-butted me. Before he could come near me again, [Tom] Hurley grabbed him and dragged him out in the street. He stayed for short amount of time before coming back in. Then, the Davis St. owners threw him out—screaming and yelling. At that point, he left."

"To say that Craig provoked a situation is so absurd. It's so ridiculous," says Lowe, who says he never spoke with Bechard until he ran into the chef and his group of friends Magic Garden later that evening.

After that, the story gets fuzzier, even when you're talking to either of the participants. What I've gathered, from them, attendees of the event and from those who saw both men later that evening, is this: Bechard either followed Lowe and friends to Magic Garden, or Bechard and Lowe were both hanging out at Magic Garden having lots of drinks with friends and fellow chefs without knowing Lowe was there. There was a fight. Each say the other started it. Lowe's girlfriend my have been was involved as well. The men were both pepper-sprayed and Tasered by Portland Police officers. And, finally, they both ended up in jail. •••UPDATE 6:30 pm Tuesday, May 18. The pig fight police report seems to confirm most of Lowe's version of events.•••

Lowe says he had stepped out of the club to talk with 4505 Meats' Ryan Farr, a San Francisco butcher/chef who had given a whole hog butchery demo at the Cochon event earlier that evening. (He butchered a Sweet Briar Farm Berkshire pig from Eugene, Oregon). When Bechard came outside to smoke a cigarette an argument erupted between him and Farr about—what else—pigs. More chefs, including Jason French from Ned Ludd who had hung out with both men that night, piled out of the club. Lowe says he could see the situation was escalating and told Bechard to leave. Then, his girlfriend Carolina Uribe, also told Bechard to "get outta here." "[Bechard] honestly took two hands and pushed Carolina. It just took it to a whole another level when you attack my girlfriend," Lowe says. "I could see Bechard wind up. He knew he was gonna fight somebody. I was standing there and he attacked me. He threw two punches, tried to tackle me and I took him down, tried to subdue him. I start to hear sirens and all of a sudden, that's the last thing I remember. That's when Lowe says one of Bechard's friends, another chef, ran up and kicked him in the head. Cue the cops, pepper-spray and Tasers.

For his part, Bechard says he was attacked by Brady as he was leaving the bar.

While we won't know the whole story until both Bechard responds and I can speak with Lowe at length, A number of foodies at the event and at the parties say that Bechard was in the wrong. Bechard obviously disagrees.

"It was the most disappointing thing I've ever seen at a food and wine event, the way Brady and his girlfriend were attacked by this guy," Hedstrom says. "Obviously, the Iowa pig thing can't be the reason. He got really drunk. He's a very aggressive guy known for this kind of behavior. He's a very talented chef, people admire his abilities, but he's really got the worst kind of reputation. Ironically, Tom Hurley, who has a horrible reputation in this town, played peacemaker that night. Had he not been there to break up that fight, there would have been a real zoo in the middle of the restaurant. [This fight] really shows how one person can make things really awful for everybody. What Bechard did was so wrong."

Bechard says, "Brady and I never spoke. I had not talked to him at the [Cochon 555] event, at Davis Street or while we were at Magic Garden," he says. "What I'm assuming (and I'm speculating here) was what I had said to people at the event carried to him and he had an issue because he thought I was discrediting his event. It was blown out of proportion on his side. Everybody was drinking and I'm embarrassed about [what happened].... I apologize to everyone involved.... I own a business here and I'm very Oregon-centric, maybe to a fault. I'm not going to withdraw any of my statements. The fact that an Iowa pig won the event was ironic since we were in a room of Oregon farmers.”

Lowe isn't so calm in his recollection: "I have a cast on my leg and spent the night in the jail because a guy pushed my girlfriend and attacked me," Lowe says. "Chefs that are passionate and reasonable I take seriously. But this gentleman [Bechard] is in no way reasonable. What he did was drive a pretty drastic blow [to this event], by being drunk, out of hand and disorderly. It blows my mind."

Read a nice recap of the non-WWE smackdown portion of Cochon 555 over at Eater PDX.

Now, the folks over at New York magazine's excellent Grub Street food blog even picked up the piggy story (squee!).


FYI, Bechard uses pigs from a small farm in McMinnville, Valley Creek Farm, at his restaurant Thistle. I totally want to taste head-butt-worthy pork someday.


 
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