The 10th Annual Baconfest Chicago was held on April 6 and 7 and featured bacon-forward dishes from 140 chefs from around the city and nearby suburbs. It is a unique showcase for bacon talent from Food Network stars, Michelin-honored chefs and James Beard nominees, side-by-side with local chefs on the rise.  

As part of each session (dinner on Friday and lunch and dinner on Saturday), participating chefs competed for the Golden Rasher Award, a recognition celebrating special achievement in the bacon arts. The 2018 Baconfest Chicago Winners of the Golden Rasher for the “Most Creative Use of Bacon” were: Bacon Roasted Sunchoke and Cottage Cheese Pelmeni from Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar, Bacon and Fried Chicken Ramen from Honey Butter Fried Chicken and Three Sisters Polenta with Candied Pork Belly from Bar Takito/Takito Kitchen.

The Friday night winner featured, pelmeni, a Russian dumpling, explained Guy Meikle, president and executive chef of Heritage Restaurant and Caviar Bar. His restaurant features a menu that is the culmination of his collective familial cuisine, which includes Czech, German, Korean, Polish and Russian Jewish.

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“The sunchoke is roasted in bacon fat, then whipped with cottage cheese, mustard, herbs and roasted bacon,” Meikle said. “We then stuff that into a bacon dough and poach it gently. It is plated with a ladle of bacon dashi, butternut squash with kale kimchi, crumbled bacon and pea tendrils.  

The bacon dashi is a broth of smoked ham hock, bacon, kombu, bonito, mirin, ginger, garlic scallions. The squash and kale kimchi is a secret. 

“We wanted to see how many layers of bacon flavor we could get in the dish,” he said. “It was not just about making a dish and adding bacon, or taking an existing profile and adding bacon. We wanted to showcase a truly unique perspective, while paying homage to the star ingredient.”  

He explained that the earthy, smoky and unctuous attributes of bacon provide an excellent “foil to work against,” he said. “We added fermented, spicy, fishy, acidic and cheesy notes. All of these flavors are normally very contradictory. We worked the balance until it all came together.”   

SLIDESHOW from Chicago's Baconfest 

Meat and poultry processors may gain inspiration for future product development by viewing this slideshow that provides photos and descriptions of 17 of the creations sampled at the Friday dinner. Over the course of the three sessions, the event fed more than 4,000 foodies with nearly 8,000 lbs. of Nueske’s bacon.

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Lance Avery, owner of Big Fork Craft Pork Jerky 
 
Big Fork Brands, Chicago, knows that everyone loves bacon, so the company crafted a bacon-inspired pork jerky to enjoy the flavor of bacon anytime, anywhere, without guilt.  Big Fork Craft Pork Jerky is meaty, smoky, sweet, savory and most importantly craveable, according to Lance Avery, owner, who sampled the new product at Baconfest. The jerky comes in 2.25-oz. bags in three varieties: original, maple and spicy three pepper. Each pack contains 110 calories and 11 grams of protein. 

Big Fork Brands is a family-owned company founded in 2011 with one mission in mind, making sausage better with bacon. The company supports small independent farmers in Iowa who raise 100 percent Berkshire hogs outdoors.

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“These hogs are not treated with antibiotics, so you know you are getting premium quality, handcrafted, delicious jerky,” Avery said. “We use the best-tasting pork on the planet.  We slice the lean pork thin and marinate it overnight. Then it’s slow smoked and dried in small batches to a perfect tender bite and texture. Like all of our products, Big Fork always uses only simple and clean ingredients.  You can taste the difference.”   

At the end of Baconfest Chicago, the organization presented $30,000 to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. In 10 years, Baconfest Chicago has raised more than $430,000 for its charity partner, which translates to more than 1,300,000 meals for hungry Chicagoans.