Is there anything more perfect than a festival dedicated to arguably the greatest food ever? The answer, my friends, is no. And what is this illustrious food that I am referring to, you may ask? Bacon. Yes, you know you love it.
Baconfest Chicago is the creation of Michael Griggs, Andre Vonbaconvitch (seriously?), and Seth Zurer, and to these three gentlemen I thank, and ask that they pay for any medical expenses that may occur as a result of this yearly event. It was said that there would be over 1300 people attending this event, and Jeffy and I happened to be among the first one hundred VIP entrants. For one hour, we had the opportunity to mingle with the fifty-five restaurants (dinner service) and chefs.
Among the fifty-five eateries was the highly anticipated restaurant Trenchermen. We had a brief opportunity to chat with the Sheerin brothers about their North Avenue eatery. “We’re about six weeks out from opening” said chef Patrick Sheerin. He proceeded to describe their offering for the evening, a bacon kimchi mortadella, pickle aioli and bacon tater tots.
Top Chefs were well represented, and their baconized dishes were all so different, and all so good. Season four champ Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat) cooked up a bacon soup topped with a smoked foam. This season’s runner-up Sarah Grueneberg (Cafe/ Spiaggia) was slinging wild cherry smoked bacon, cheddar gnudi (think gnocci) with spring ramps. Also from the most recent season, chef Heather Terhune and the folks at Sable offered applewood-smoked bacon pretzels with a cheddar-bacon jam dip so good that I would literally drink it.
With over a thousand bacon lovers in attendance, we had the opportunity to spark up a few conversations with local foodies. When asked about favorites, there were an overwhelming number of votes for three dishes: mini-whiskey bacon pops, bacon three ways (porchetta ravioli, crispy panchetta chip, and warm bacon vinaigrette), and braised pork belly with whitefish brandade, spring peas, and pickled green garlic. Jessica Oloroso (Black Dog Gelato) has created one of the best gelato desserts ever in the mini-whiskey bacon pops. These delectable treats are dipped in chocolate and generously coated with bacon. Jason Paskewitz and the team at Gemini Bistro (and Rustic House) whipped up the one, truly balanced dish in their bacon three ways. What made this dish (it was a three in one) so perfect was the balancing agent: vinegar. It was the much-needed acid in what was an overly-fatty and salty night. The Vie team behind chef Nathan Sears whipped up a very simple looking, but flavorful dish composed of a thinly sliced piece of braised pork belly. But what made it truly divine was the whitefish brandade.
But at the end of the day, the most interesting and fun dish, and I use the term lightly, came from chef Derek Simcik and my new favorite guys at Atwood Cafe. Their focus was the same as everybody else, bacon. But what this crew put together was a trip to the Wonka Factory. Titled “Willy Wonka meets Bacon – an array of Wonka-inspired candies done with bacon,” this really wasn’t a dish at all. It was a candy store, and children walked up, took disposable spoons and took scoopfuls of various pixie dust and, wait for it, bacon Pop Rocks. The stuff was like crack, and I stopped by to get my fix not once, but twice. On the second trip, though, the guys offered up a whole stash of the Pop Rocks concoction. Jealous?
We didn’t actually eat for the last thirty minutes. Jeffy and I were on the floor of the UIC Forum, having a stroke. Three hours. Twenty-one courses. It was heaven. But the best part about Baconfest is that it donates a significant portion of its proceeds to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. So while eating pounds of bacon, feel good about yourself because the money you dished out goes to a great cause.
It’s bittersweet now that the event is over. So until next year, BF..well not really, because I’ve got some bacon in the fridge.
Here are some other pics for your drooling pleasures.