Dietary restrictions aside, everyone loves bacon. If you eat pork, and you don't like bacon, something is wrong somewhere.
For the past three years, I've been judging Baconfest, a day-long celebration of the pig's tasty belly.
Started in Chicago in 2009 by my friend Seth Zurer, thousands of tickets sell out in hours and Baconfest is now branching out to Washington DC and San Francisco. Since its inception, Baconfest has donated $130,000 – and a huge quantity of food donated by attendees – to the Chicago Food Depository.
Last Saturday, as I prepared to eat bacon all evening, I had to be careful about what I ate during the day. The night before, I did a "tummy stretcher" by drinking a lot of water to stretch the stomach walls in preparation for the onslaught of pork. For breakfast, I had oatmeal and fruit; for lunch, tofu and corn. I worked out at FFC for three hours. At 5:30PM, I was ready for dinner.
Each of five judges for Baconfest was responsible for trying 12-13 items; we each chose our favorite, and all the judges then tried each of the five favorites. We were asked to judge solely on the basis of creativity, or as Zurer put it, "to what extent the dish pushed the boundaries of bacon."
Of course, though, taste came into the equation, and however creative the dish was, it had to "work."
For the evening session, the winner of the coveted Golden Rasher was "Wake n' Bake," a bacon scrapple from Three Aces (1321 W. Taylor). It was creative and tasty. The scrapple was sitting in a pool of bacon siracha, with some greens. On top was grated egg yolk (preserved until hard in bacon salt); on the side, an Orange Julius containing a bacon-infused Malort. Danny Shapiro of Scofflaw (3201 W. Armitage) tasted the beverage and, as one who knows, judged it awesome. I loved the way they pulled the bacon "theme" through all the elements in this dish.
A very close runner up was "Black Pearl" Bacon Nem Nuong from Three Sisters (131 W. Clinton), a combo of bacon fish balls, squid ink tapioca, nuoc cham dressing, cucumber and unspecified "Vietnamese herbs." If we were judging on visuals alone, this dish would have won; it was gorgeous. While flavors were good, I tasted more fish than bacon, and although it was very, very close, we gave the nod to Three Aces.
An interesting loser was the offering from Flo and Santos (1310 S. Wabash), the Bacon Pierogi Explosion. Much like the Black Truffle Explosion at Alinea, this dish involved folding pierogi dough around a bacon gelatin that was supposed to melt when the pierogi cooked to yield a soft center that was, according to the server, "a lot like a Gusher." It was a great idea, but it didn't work; I had three of these pirogues, hoping that I'd get one that gushed. No luck; in each case, the liquid had simply been absorbed back into the dough.
Baconfest – as much a charitable as a gastronomic event – is magnificent: it's huge fun to be in a room full of people who so enthusiastically embrace their shared love of the porcine paunch.