Baconfest Chicago Cookoff Recap: Well, No One Died

The Golden Rashers

Baconfest Chicago proper won’t be for another six months, but if Saturday’s VIP pro cookoff is any indication organizers Seth Zurer, Michael Griggs and Andre Vonbaconvitch might want to have some ambulances at the ready. Or at least some Lipitor. We won’t get into another debate about how played out the bacon meme is; haters will hate, lovers will love. But there was a sense of fun among the crowd Saturday. As vocal as the pro- and anti-bacon folks can be, the overall vibe was lifted from Alfred E. Neumann: “What? Me Worry?” Few took themselves seriously at the cookoff and levity reigned. So did excess.

The chefs taking part in the cookoff embraced that spirit in their dishes. You can count on the Signature Room’s Patrick Sheerin to make a carbonara with bacon, pork belly and guanciale. Goose Island’s John Manion used a bourbon barrel to cure, then smoke his own bacon, while one sixtyblue’s Michael McDonald paid tribute to Chick-fil-A with chicken-fried bacon on a pretzel bun. Chalkboard’s Gilbert Langlois had arguably the most decadent dish at the cookoff with his vanilla bacon ice cream topped with a swirl made from caramel and lard, and topped with shiitake bacon crumble. Now do you see why I think an ambulance might be necessary? More than one guest and chef expressed surprise that someone didn’t collapse.

In the end the “Golden Rasher for Best Use of Bacon by a Culinary Professional” went to two chefs who expressed restraint with their simple dishes. Troy Graves of Eve was an overwhelming winner for the Peoples Choice Rasher with his pumpkin-bacon waffle with pomegranate glazed pork belly and apricot syrup. Breakfast braciole from the Bristol’s Chris Pandel was awarded the judges Golden Rasher. The judges panel included LTHForum’s Gary Wiviott, the Reader’s Mike Sula, Moveable Feast’s Louisa Chu, the Baconfest brain trust and myself.