In sweet and savory, for breakfast through dinner, and from beverage to main course, bacon was the star ingredient in about 40 different dishes served during each of three tasting sessions that were part of the 11th Annual Baconfest Chicago held April 5 and 6. Nearly 4,000 attendees enjoyed a unique menu from more than 150 celebrated chefs.
The VIP ticket holders at the Friday dinner session were treated to an exclusive bowl of bacon ramen crafted by Mike Satinover, who is known as the “ramen lord” and the mastermind behind a series of occasional ramen popups in Chicago that typically sell out in seconds. His ramen obsession has been chronicled by the Chicago Tribune, on “Serious Eats,” on Takeout.com and elsewhere.
“I will never make this dish again,” he told the event organizers. “I’m not going to make this for another popup. I’m not going to make this for another event. This is a Baconfest specific ramen and then that’s it. It’s gone forever. It comes in, and it goes away.”
Like most of the chefs at Baconfest, Satinover used Nueske’s bacon. He started with a tonkotsu broth made with pork bones boiled hard under pressure to produce intense flavor. To this he added bacon tare, a soy sauce syrup infused with applewood smoked pork and bacon aroma oil, along with rendered bacon fat, onion and garlic. Sous-vide-cooked and seared slices of Nueske’s applewood smoked bacon topped the noodles along with traditional green onion garnish.
During each session, chefs competed in two categories. The Most Creative Use of Bacon included a judges’ choice and people’s choice, while the Best Front of House Presentation was a judge-only award.
Chef Joseph Farina of Victory Tap, Chicago, was Friday’s people’s choice champion. He created a shaved pecorino cheese focaccia bread topped with Nueske’s bacon and roasted onions. At Saturday’s lunch session, Miguel Rangel, a culinary instructor at Cooking Skills Academy, Itasca, Illinois, received the people’s choice accolades for his 48-hour red braised pork belly. That evening, the people voted for bacon braised brisket tacos from Chef Dan Casey, McWethy’s Sports Bar, Itasca, Illinois.
Presentation matters and Chef Melissa Humphrey of XO Marshmallow, Chicago, went all out with spicy s’mores on Friday. This sweet-meets-heat dessert featured chipotle marshmallow, chocolate and smoked bacon sandwiched between two graham crackers.
Another show stopper on Friday came from the owners of the Oak Park, Illinois-based butcher shop Carnivore Inc., who presented a unique take on nachos. Erik Williams and Brad Knaub started with house-made jalapeño potato chips topped with crispy fried bacon slices and bacon-infused beer cheese sauce.
As in previous years, Baconfest Chicago supported the Greater Chicago Food Depository with a donation from event proceeds, a raffle on site and a food drive at the event. Over its 11-year history, the event has generated more than $480,000 in financial donations to the area’s largest food bank.