In five years, Baconfest has grown from an idea born in a late night drinking session among friends into arguably the most anticipated culinary event of the year in Chicago. On Saturday, 3,000 ticketed guests descended on the UIC Forum to eat a truly obscene quantity of pork belly. 128 Chicago-area chefs made use of approximately 6,000 pounds of bacon in every manner you can imagine and several more you can’t. Nearly all of the chefs make use of Nueske’s bacon, provided gratis by the company, while a dozen or so of the more ambitious among them make their own. And $50,000 was donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository at the end of it all. We've been there every year, and helped judge both professional and the amateur competitions this year. Our slideshow of both sessions, including the winners of both competitions, is below.
Each of the two sessions began with a relatively tame hour open to people who paid $200 for the privilege as well as invited guests and freeloading media jackals like ourselves. Once that first hour ends, about 1,400 people responsible for the event selling out in just 41 minutes pour into the hall. The next two and a half hours is a frenzy of unbridled bacon-eating and bacon-drinking joy. From the chefs to the diners to the volunteers with unenviable task of making sure the trash is properly divided between bins designated for composting, recycling, and actual garbage, everyone seems thrilled to participate in this over-the-top celebration of porcine gluttony.
A panel of five judges convenes each session to select the winner of the Golden Rasher for most creative use of bacon. As a participant during the dinner session, we can report that taste and “baconness” factor into the equation as well. Among the many outstanding choices at the lunch session, Lockwood’s Chef Joseph Rose claimed top honors thanks to a bacon ragout with bacon dashi and nori topped with a sous vide egg peeled to order. The dinner session saw the crowning of the first two-time winner in Baconfest Chicago history. Chef Matt Troost and his team from Three Aces delivered the “Wake n’ Bacon,” a hunk of bacon scrapple served with a bacon sriracha-style sauce and black sesame seeds, all of which was topped with shaved egg yolks that were cured in bacon salt. To wash that down, Troost provided a bacon-Malort Orange Julius.
Once again, the triumvirate behind the event - Seth Zurer, Michael Griggs, and Andre Vonbaconvitch (possibly not his real name) - used the event, in part, as a means of doing some good in the world. This year’s event resulted in a $50,000 donation to the Greater Chicago Food depository and over 5,000 pounds of donated food, 2,500 of which came from a matching contribution by Ekrich.
As for what’s next? Baconfest will return to Chicago next year and will presumably be even bigger (there’s talk of three sessions). In the meantime, the Baconfest boys are ready to begin their quest for global bacon domination. Baconfest San Francisco will be held on October 11, 2013, while events in Washington, DC and Green Bay are in the works for 2014.