Bacon lovers united this past Saturday at the UIC Forum for the fifth annual Baconfest. The local festival has grown from just 75 guests at its inaugural event in 2009 to more than 3,000 participants and 128 chefs this year, while selling out tickets in just 41 minutes. The success has led to expanding to San Francisco and Washington D.C. in the coming months. With such ambitious plans in mind, Baconfest 2013 was the biggest outing yet and showed it was ready to go national.
The Forum was packed to the brim with pork enthusiasts ready to chow down on whatever bacon dishes they could get their hands on and the chefs were more than happy to oblige. Despite the seemingly never-ending crowds, the lines and wait times were never long. And there were plenty of inventive bacon creations to be had courtesy of the 5,700 pounds of Nueske's bacon served. Anything and everything bacon-related was available from local chefs including Chris Pandel, Bill Kim and Jared Van Camp.
Attendees wandered from table to table sampling a wide array bacon bites. The lunch session saw an equal mix of sweet and savory, with many chefs opting for dessert options. Baconskin krispie treats (The Bristol), bacon s'mores (South Water Kitchen) and bacon and egg ice cream cones (ZED451) were just a few of the standouts. On the other end of the flavor spectrum, newcomer Central Standard served Suckonork—suckling pig porchetta on an onion roll with spicy head cheese, slaw, baconnaise and homemade dill pickles—while John Manion of La Sirena Clandestina cooked up feijoada baconed black beans with malagueta sauce. Some booths offered the best of both worlds like Untitled's "Love Me Tender" pork belly panino with smoked banana, truffle caramel and cashew butter, and Baume & Brix's two sweet and savory Fat Elvis bites.
Baconfest was an opportunity for some to really think outside of the box as well. Hearty wowed the crowd with its bacon cotton candy, which was a fun reimagining of an old festival classic. Refried bacon confit with country ham-creamed sauerkraut, pumpernickel toast and sweet and sour beets was another winner courtesy of Big Jones, and Pure Kitchen braised bacon in kimchi along with a yuzu and bacon vinaigrette. On top of all that, The Fifty/50 and 42 Below Vodka teamed up to create the Wobble Stopper Bloody Mary while Sable and Plantation Rum offered a Pineapple Bacontiki Mai Tai. Guests could also sample products from Jones Dairy Farm and take photos with its piggy mascot, and MOZO Shoes even offered festival goers the chance to try on some bacon-inspired kicks.
In the end, Three Aces took home the Golden Rasher Award for Most Creative Use of Bacon at the evening session for its "Wake n' Bacon" dish—bacon scrapple with bacon siracha, bacon-salt cured egg yolks and a bacon-Malort Julius. This was the second year in a row Three Aces won and marked the first repeat winner in Baconfest history. Lockwood took home the Golden Rasher at the lunch session for their bacon onion hash with slow poached sous vide egg, dashi broth and nori dust. Fresco 21 also won for Best Front-of-House with its bacon skyline presentation. In addition, $50,000 was donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and a food drive was held, with Eckrich donating 2,500 lbs of Bacon Lovers Deli Meat to match guest contributions. So even though many bacon lovers were not feeling so hot by the end of the day, they could still feel good about helping a worthy cause.