In my review of the restaurant Purple Pig, I had mentioned how the pig was all the rage at the moment in Chicago. So I should have seen Baconfest coming. But I hadn't.
You have to understand that this is a city which lives and breathes meat: it is one of the largest meat market in the US (and I am talking about food, here, people, not about other types of meat markets). It is a place where it is perfectly normal to eat bacon for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with sausages as a side dish, probably counting as vegetables. (I can see you British reader, raising your eyebrow thinking "that's pretty normal": may I remind you that the UK is not Europe?). The city official dish is a hot dog, for Heaven's sake.
Still, I had underestimated how these people dig the pig.
I had heard that the new trend in the US was to use bacon also for dessert, candying it. Still: nothing had prepared me for the dirtiness of Baconfest: and I mean it in the best possible way. Fifty dollars bought me a ticket to one of the funniest, unhealtiest and probably best culinary experiences I ever had in my entire life.
Baconfest is exactly what the name implies: a festival completely devoted to bacon. A tasting menu prepared by 12 local chefs, using bacon as the main ingredient, plus a lot of bacon food on sale from a number of vendors. Chocolate coated bacon strips? They had it. Bacon flavored cupcakes? They had it. Bacon gnocchi with mushrooms and artichocke sauce? They had it. You get the picture...
But wait, you got only half of the picture: because if bacon as a food is something that you may be already accustomed to, NOTHING prepares you for bacon flavored drinks. And especially, NOTHING prepares you for the fact that these drinks are actually VERY good: Bacon Vodka (made by a Seattle-based company, starting distribution in Chicago next week), Bacon flavored bloody marys (A M A Z I N G), bacon flavored Old Fashion (bourbon based).
I mean: BACON everywhere. They even had - and I swear I am not joking - bacon flavored perfume: so, ladies, if you want your man to really be into you, you know what to use.
As soon as the gates opened, at 11am, together with my fellow bacon companions (that I will never thank enough for tagging me along) we reached for the bar: nothing better to start a hard day eating than a bacon flavored bloodymary...
Then we went for the main room, where each of the chefs had a table serving his specific dish. My top three were:
- Chicken fried cherrywood smoked bacon with cherry ketchup and homemade pickle on a miniature brioche ban, prepared by the chef of one sixtyblue. Mouthwatering. Unfortunately I couldn't have a second one, because by the time I got back to the table for an encore they were gone.
- Canadian bacon gnocchi with morrel mushrooms and artichoke sauce, by chef of restaurant Boka. As an Italian I know how difficult it is to nail a good gnocchi. It is like a burger: anybody can grill a patty of meat: but how many can actually make a PERFECT burger? Same with gnocchi: and these were very very good. And among all the other dishes, they also sparkled for being very light.
- Cherrywood smoked bacon wrapped dates stuffed with ewe's blue cheese: I had eaten dates wrapped in bacon before. But oh man, were these good! So rich!
And for all of you who couldn't make it, here are a few photos to salivate on!
Bacon flavored cupcakes
My favorite dish: chicken fried cheerywood smoked bacon with cherry ketchup and pickle on a miniature brioche bun...mmm
I was getting VERY happy on those: bacon flavored bloody marys
Cured bacon with roasted cashew upma and green chili upma, mustard greens and pickle bacon (Upma is an Indian dish)
A chef at work. And a lot of bacon.
Bacon corndogs: these were phenomenal, but just too rich to make it to the top three. I could hear my arteries praying for me to stop.