Baconfest Chicago 2011 at UIC Forum | Live review + photo gallery

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

    Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

  • Photograph: Mandy Demspey

    Bacon Fest at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011

Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

Bacon Fest 2011 at the UIC Forum. April 9, 2011


Pork is the Gene Hackman of meats. Incredibly versatile. If there’s one thing the attendees and participants of Baconfest Chicago know after this weekend, it is that.

If you read “Baconfest” and picture the iconic fried strips we all know and love, think again. This year’s second annual event, held at the UIC Forum, brought almost anything but: Cherrywood-smoked bacon fruit roll-ups. Bacon cannoli with maple and bacon marscapone. Braised bacon brioche with salted maple butter. Bacon biscotti, bacon lollipops, bacon vodka, bacon panna cotta, bacon gelato with bacon bananas foster, and bacon banh mi. With over 50 of the city’s finest chefs in the room, all working from one inspiration, the dishes ran the gamut from appetizer to dessert and left attendees with a new idea of what the meat can actually do.

It was a celebration of both pork and the art of cuisine. How often do you find a level playing field for our foodie-friendly town to evaluate and compare its culinary best? The event wasn’t officially a competition, but with cooks, everything’s a competition. “Our objective was to truly go back to the basics and do what we know best...gourmet,” said LOKaL’s Arthur Wnorowski. “We have the same pork belly [we offered] on the menu right now... we compete everyday, you know.” Clearly, when chefs compete, we win. Here were my standout picks.

CUSTOM HOUSE TAVERN: Bacon Manhattan
Custom House Tavern’s Bacon Manhattan was a twist on the usual: Instead of rye that’s been “washed” with bacon fat, chef Perry Hendrix flavored his bacon with rye. The result was as intricate as it was succulent. For vermouth, he used a red onion marmalade cooked with port, and for cherry, a dried, tart cherry mustard added both sweetness and a touch of heat. “Once I had the initial idea of the dish, the rest came together easily and quickly,” he said. “I didn't actually taste the dish until it was finished and in the hands of others trying it—I knew the components would work together.  The response was great.  It's always a good sign when someone brings someone back to try the dish—and when someone grabs a business card after eating the bite.”

BOKA: Braised Bacon with Bacon Spaetzle
“The [creation] process was funny, because I wasn’t sure exactly what I was planning on doing until three days before the fest,” said Boka’s executive sous chef Carl Shelton. “But I had to sign up with a dish. I decided to do braised bacon and I love spaetzle, so I decided to try and do it with bacon purée folded in it.” He wasn’t the only chef there whose offerings came together quickly: At iNG’s table, executive chef Thomas Elliott Bowman explained how he was able to create and carbonate a bacon root beer in just two days. Despite the short prep time, Shelton’s food was impressive. “Everyone seemed happy with it…a lot of people said it was the best bacon flavor there,” he said.

LOKAL: Glazed Pork Belly with Buttermilk Biscuit
“The inspiration for the dish was the farm and the feast, which we grew up around,” Wnorowski said. “Honey wine–brined pork belly, apple cider gastrique, homemade beer potato bread and, of course, the cornichon...classic and underrated.” Despite the humble inspirations, his piece was subtle and rich. As for the response? “We were excited when people really understood the dish, liked it and identified with it. Sometimes less is more and when it comes to the bacon...we wanted the bacon to really stand out. People commented how the pork belly was balanced with the bread which cleaned the palate, and how cornichon really awakened their taste buds after hours of trying a lot of pork.” 

GIRL AND THE GOAT: Bacon and Rogue River Smokey Blue Cheese Bread Pudding
While more of a soup than anything that could be described as “pudding,” Stephanie Izard’s shots of pure flavor struck down to the taste buds' root and left a distinct, lasting aftertaste. Hearty is a hard word to ascribe to soup, but the bold flavor of the liquid combined with the blue cheese drizzled on top was robust and filling. Oohs and ahhs could be heard emanating from her table, which was packed for the entirety of the feast.


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