CHICAGO — The seventh annual Baconfest Chicago took place April 17-18 at The University of Illinois Chicago Forum. More than 4,500 people over three sessions (Friday dinner, Saturday lunch and Saturday dinner) indulged in ample bacon-inspired cocktails, craft beer and unlimited sweet and savory bacon treats.
“People seem to love bacon more and more every year, and we are so happy to provide a forum for both foodies and bacon fans alike,” said Seth Zurer, co-founder of the event. “Seven years ago we started with only 10 restaurants and 75 guests, and now have over 170 of the best chefs in the city participating. We are honored to be a part of Chicago’s culinary scene.”
This year, each of the three sold-out sessions included more than 50 chef stations. It was estimated that 8,000 lbs of bacon, all donated by Nueske’s, Wittenberg, Wis., was served in many varied formats.
Participating chefs in each session competed for the Golden Rasher Award, a designation celebrating special achievement in the bacon arts. On Friday night, a panel of judges awarded Most Creative Use of Bacon to Patrick Sheerin, chef/owner, Trenchermen Restaurant, Chicago, for his bacon fried rice.
Developed specifically for Baconfest, Mr. Sheerin believes there’s something magical about bacon and fried rice. He used a short-grain rice so that the starches would help hold together the ingredients, which included crispy Berkshire bacon, toasted peanuts and a secret seasoning blend. For extra kick, the fried rice was topped with house-made bacon fat hoisin sauce and egg yolk jam.
“Bacon is such an integral part of the American lexicon,” he said. “It smells great when you cook it. It’s fatty, salty, sweet and smoky. What’s not to love?”
The Most Creative Use of Bacon served at Saturday’s lunch went to Chef Takashi Yagihashi of Slurping Turtle, Chicago, for his Bacon Chiyawanmush, which combines shiitake mushrooms, ginko nuts, bacon-dashi glaze and wasabi. Chef Dan Compton of Vie, Western Springs, Ill., received this accolade for his Bacon Slim Jim & Potato Bacon Soup served at Saturday’s dinner session.
The Best Front of House Presentation award on Friday went to Chef Craig Fass of The Bad Apple, Chicago, for his dish called Gulliver’s Travels. This specialty was porchetta (fatty, moist boneless pork roast) stuffed with jagdwurst (bacon sausage) in a blanket of bacon, apple and jicama slaw on a bacon crustini.
Saturday’s lunch award was given to Chef Christine Cikowski and Chef Josh Kulp of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Chicago. The two served Fried Chicken French Toast topped with bacon honey butter and maple bourbon syrup.
There was a tie for the award during Saturday’s dinner session. Knife & Tine, Chicago, was recognized for its BBQ Pork Belly, while Osteria Langhe, Chicago, smoked with a Bacon Cigar.
In addition to hosting a food drive and raffle at the event, Baconfest donates a portion of proceeds from ticket sales to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Since 2009, Baconfest has donated more than $200,000 to Chicago’s food bank, which translates into more than 650,000 meals for hungry people in the area.
A number of chefs shared with Food Business News their inspiration behind their Baconfest development.
Trevor Hoyte, executive chef, Ara-on Restaurant, Chicago: “I went a bit outside the box and did something a little different than my original intent. I called it Shrimp Ravioli, and it included morel mushrooms, pork consommé, watercress, pickled ramps and barbecue-onion-glazed bacon chicharrones. I find that bacon adds depth and a delightful flavor profile that highlights dishes, sauces, stocks, etc., especially those that involve pork of some sort.”
Allison Doerr, culinary director, Bacino’s, Chicago: “The dish I made was a bacon-fried ravioli with bacon mustard jam. It was created specifically for Baconfest, but we will be using it as a special on our menu. The inspiration came from my childhood. I grew up in St. Louis, and they are known for the toasted ravioli dipped in marinara sauce. This is a twist on that same concept.
“Bacon is just plain delicious. It is one of those ingredients that is great by itself but also adds a smokiness and sometimes crispiness to other dishes. Because it is so versatile, you can bake it, fry it, grill it, wrap it ... you name it we can do it with bacon.”
Eddie Lakin, chef/owner, Edzo’s Burger Shop’s, Evanston, Ill.: “I created a bacon maple peanut butter milkshake. Though it’s not a regular menu item, it’s typical for us to have offbeat milkshake specials such as spicy Mexican chocolate, salted caramel and strawberry balsamic.
“One of the things that started me on the road to becoming a chef was coming up with unique ways to utilize and maximize the flavors of favorite ingredients, such as bacon. Bacon has a unique intensity of flavor that gives you sweet, savory, salty and smoky.”
Brian Wolters, chef de cuisine, Fresco 21 at the Loews Hotel O’Hare, Rosemont, Ill.: “Baconfest is known for calling some of the best of our industry to be there most creative. I saw the challenge to execute something to honor that, and the opportunity to serve a spectrum of experiences. I developed bacon soda with the intent of it looking gnarly but tasting satisfying. That taste boiled down to balancing the sweet, salty, fatty and smoky taste of bacon with carbonation mouthfeel and orange juice acidity. We made our own simple syrup, adding in fresh orange juice and then a distinguishing infusion of the cooked bacon itself.
“To keep the full integrity of the bacon’s smokiness we added into that syrup a small amount of significantly reduced braising stock of the smoked pork belly used in the ice cube that we wrapped in bacon and served hot floating in the cold soda. Finally, it was just a matter of adding the right amount of carbonated water to get the desired effervescence and creamy finish.”
Chrissy Camba, chef/owner, Maddy's Dumpling House, Chicago: “I had gone to New Orleans late last year and experienced Louisiana barbecue shrimp. I had heard it was delicious and wasn’t typical barbecue. It’s a very delicious butter, Worcestershire, lemon and creole seasoning sauce. I’ve been obsessed with it since. That experience, along with my love of the Kentucky Hot Brown, was my inspiration for The Hot Mess served at Baconfest. It’s a dumpling filled with Louisiana-style barbecue shrimp, bacon and pork, and smothered in cheese sauce topped with crispy bacon.
Paul Katz, corporate executive chef, Old Town Pour House/Bottleneck Management, Chicago: “Once you smell bacon cooking, there’s an instant wetting of the mouth and an uncontrollable urge to eat it. It’s an extremely user-friendly product that has as many applications as you can think of. For Baconfest I created braised pork belly using Ebel’s Weiss beer, onion marmalade, pickled serrano chili and red pepper coulis.”
John Franke, executive chef, Velvet Taco, Chicago: “The innovation we were serving at Baconfest is an existing menu item. Our tacos are numbered. It was our No. 7: The Cuban Pig. It’s a slightly crisp flour tortilla lined with creole mustard, house-brined pickles, slow-roasted pulled pork, shaved ham, gruyere cheese, and of course, bacon, which we baked in the oven with additional coarse ground black pepper sprinkled across it.
“Bacon has really hit a hot spot with people in the past few years. Their infatuation is almost forcing chefs to be more innovative and creative with the ingredient. For example, we have a unique taco featured every week. One week we did a homage to Elvis, which was a play on Elvis’ favorite, the banana, peanut butter and bacon sandwich. Ours was on a warm flour tortilla with a house-made cashew butter, grilled bananas and honey-drizzled peppered bacon.”
Zachary Prince, executive chef, Woodhaven Bar and Kitchen, Chicago: “The innovation I created for Baconfest was what we called The Ultimate Bacon Bison Bite. It contained cherrywood-smoked bacon and goat cheese-infused bison with jalapeño. This is rolled in smoked bacon and served with pepperoni aioli and blueberry, barbecue, buffalo, bacon dipping sauce. My inspiration behind the dish was to display a small bite with a surprising burst of flavor for bacon lovers. The dish is displayed on our menu, but with less enhancements of bacon. Being a new restaurant, we looked at this as our introduction to the city of Chicago using what I believe to be a beautifully crafted dish.
“As a culinary professional, events such as Baconfest get us excited. We are known as artists, but sometimes people forget that. These events give us a clear canvas to create, bend the rules and use our imagination. It’s a lot of fun and gives us much gratitude to see people eat with an open mind. Taste buds just love the element of surprise.”
For more information, go to baconfestchicago.com.