“Bacon has probably more palate appeal than any one other meat.” – James Beard, Beard on Food
For the 8th consecutive year, Bacon Nation united to make Baconfest Chicago an astounding success. On Saturday April 30 and Sunday May 1, 2016, chefs from 152 of Chicagoland’s best restaurants fulfilled the porcine fantasies of the more than 4,000 bacon-loving guests who descended on the UIC Forum.
This year’s event saw an unparalleled variety of bacon creativity in the food and the front of house presentations. We were genuinely thrilled to see so many chefs having so much fun maximizing the baconness. And we were even more excited to be able to present a check to the Chicago Greater Food Depository for $50,000, bringing the all-time total of Baconfest contributions to that phenomenal organization to more than $360,000 (including raffle ticket sales), which translates to more than 1,110,000 meals for Chicagoans in need.
Once again, each of the three Baconfest sessions began with a Cooking Channel VIP Hour followed by a three-hour General Admission period. With an average of more than 50 restaurants at each session, there was more than enough bacon to go around. How much bacon? Well, longtime Baconfest Chicago sponsor Nueske’s once again generously offered free bacon to any and all participating chefs. Not surprisingly, most took advantage of that generous offer and 7,360 pounds of Neuske’s bacon was used to make Baconfest dishes. While Nueske’s makes a phenomenal range of bacons, some chefs opted to make their own bacon while others sourced elsewhere, most notably the handful who used Iberico bacon from pigs who spent their lives dining on acorns supplied by Wagshal’s Imports.
In addition to the stunning variety of edible treats at Baconfest, this year’s event included our most wide-ranging beverage selection yet. For palate cleansing purposes, there was unlimited still and sparking water from longtime sponsor Smeraldina. For revival purposes to get out of food comas, there was iced coffee from High Brew. And for those looking for something to do with the seven (7!) drink tickets every Baconfest attendee received, there were outstanding cocktails all weekend courtesy of Breakthru Beverage Group, a Templeton Rye Old Fashioned Bar on Saturday night, a Bloody Mary Bar for Sunday brunch, and a host of other options thanks to our beverage sponsors.
As always, we cannot possibly thank the volunteers and staff strongly enough. From keeping walking aisles clear so our guests have quicker access to the deliciousness to diligently working to minimize Baconfest’s environmental impact, these guys went above and beyond to make sure Baconfest ran smoothly. Also on hand to help out were volunteers and staff from the Food Depository. In addition to the donation we’re able to make thanks to ticket sales, Bacon Nation gives to the Food Depository both through donations of non-perishable food (1093 pounds were collected this year) and a raffle featuring prizes donated by our sponsors that raised an additional $8,691.
Nueske’s Applewood Meats Amateur Bacon Cookoff
Five finalists were invited to Baconfest to battle it out in the Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats Baconfest Chicago 2016 Amateur Cook-off COOK-OFF. It was a tough decision for the panel of judges, but the winner of the competition and recipient of a year’s supply of Neusk’s bacon, was Ashtin Hara, who made Bacon Popcorn Toffee Bars.
The other finalists also made great dishes and also received special prices from Nueske’s. They were Cynthia Flamm (Bacon Peanut Buttercup Thumbprint Cookies), Stella Lee (Nueske’s Bacon Meatloaf), Andrea Naseef (Elvis Cheesecake), and Bill Rickey (Bacon Buffalo Deviled Eggs).
Best Bacon Poem
The poetic odes to bacon continue to amaze our panel of literary judges. For the second consecutive year, they had no choice but to pick two winners: Joseph S. Pete’s “Baconmandias, King of Kings,” and David Kurtz’s “If It Weren’t for Bacon” won the respective authors two VIP Baconfest Chicago tickets each. You can read both poems here.
The Golden Rashers!
Sure, everyone at Baconfest has a great time and the event raises a tremendous amount of money for an exceptional cause, but it’s the awarding of the Golden Rashers that stops everyone in their tracks every year. These are trophies that even the most grizzled Baconfest chefs and restaurants lose sleep over in the days and weeks leading up to the big event. Well, that’s what we like to tell ourselves! Here’s what is clear: the effort and enthusiasm that goes into cooking and presenting at Baconfest is Exhibit A in why Chicago is the best culinary city in the country. Our chefs make stellar food and have a heck of a lot of fun doing it.
Best Front of House Presentation
We’ve seen some outstanding front of house presentations in the past at Baconfest, but nothing like this year. Restaurants that would have dominated previous year went home empty-handed. Just to give you an idea of how good this year’s group was, a restaurant that built a 10+ foot Willis Sears Tower of bacon didn’t even come in second place in its shift. In fact, so many restaurants brought it when it came to presentation that our judges of design declared co-winners for all three sessions! On a weekend where so many went above and beyond when it came to presentation, are the winners for each shift of the Golden Rasher for Best Front of House Presentation were:
(this was the second consecutive Golden Rasher for Front of House Presentation for The Bad Apple)
Most Creative Use of Bacon
Finally, we get to the mostly highly sought after awards of Baconfest: Most Creative Use of Bacon. Each session, a panel of judges collectively sampled every dish available, narrowed down them all down to a small group of finalists, and then anointed one winner of this most prestigious award. Each group of finalists shows the breadth and depth of creative bacon deliciousness that makes this event so special.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken won a rasher for best Front of House Presentation in 2015. They did a bang-up job on that front again this year but it was their food that has them adding to a Golder Rasher collection. Joshua Kulp & Christine Cikowski made Bacon Chicken and Grits.
Fork – Timothy Cottini
Unwrapped Bacon Date – bacon sausage wrapped in bacon with red wine-bacon date puree
Kitty O’Sheas – Mario Garcia
BBQ Pork Pie – bacon lingonberry jam, spiced onions, petit celery
Mity Nice Bar & Grill – John Chiakulas
Pigskin wings – bacon-skinned chicken wings dusted with peppered bacon spice, accompanied with assorted sauces like bacon smear, bacon buffalo, and bacon ranch
The Cotton Duck – Dominic Zumpano
BLT Scrapple – bacon scrapple, romaine butter, pickled tomatoes, candied beef tongue bacon vinaigrette
Troquet River North – Tim Davidson
World of Whirlpool – Ender Oktayuren
1) Bacon Shumai, Blueberries – Neuske’s bacon, pickled blueberries, and bacon blueberry puree. 2) Bacaron – Macaron with crispy Neuske’s bacon and bacon butter cream. 3) Bacon Blueberry Nougat.
Cameron Grant at Osteria Langhe was a finalist in 2015 with a Bacon Cigar. This year, he took top price on Saturday night with a Bacon Plin with smoky dijon serrano jus.
Monti’s – James Gottwald
Fried Applewood Smoked Bacon and Pork Belly Chili Cheese Dog
Sunda – Jesse De Guzman
Bacon Teron Spring Roll
The Radler – Nathan Sears
Bacon Rye Sourdough Tartine
Travelle Kitchen + Bar – Scott Green
Bacon Tarte Flambe – Vidalia-braised applewood bacon, ramp soubise, black pepper hollandaise, crispy leeks, puff pastry
Evan Behmer at Mercat a la Planxa took home the rasher for Arroz de Iberico Pancetta, which featured smoked Calasparra rige, Iberico bacon, cage-free egss, and Iberico bacon aioli
Ballaro – Mark Newman
Pork Belly Cannelloni – Braised pork belly and sausage stuffed cannelloni, Calabrian chili aioli, and pancetta spiced bacon marmalade
Freehand Chicago (Broken Shaker, Café Integral) – Jonathan Meyer
Bacon Maple Dashi Braised Bacon – pickled mushrooms and daikon/cabbage slaw
Lagunitas Taproom – Robert Chamberlain
Westified Black Gold Bacon with Sour Cherry Reaper Sauce
The Duck Inn – Kevin Hickey
Franckenduckie – Duck fat hot dog wrapped in Neuske’s bacon, served on poppyseed brioche bun smothered with Wisconsin cheddar sauce topped with Calabrian chili relish
SHARE YOUR BACONFEST STORIES!
We’ll add more about Baconfest Chicago 2016 on this page soon, but for now we wanted to get this brief recap out and get this year’s winners the recognition they deserve. In the meantime, please take to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share your recaps of the event. We LOVE reading your stories of the bacon-ocity.