VIDEO: Bonkers for bacon at Baconfest Chicago

By Avinash Chak

Salty, smokey and savory are just some of the flavors that brought thousands to the UIC Forum April 17 and 18.

Baconfest Chicago has paid homage to America’s favorite cured meat since its start in 2009, when ten chefs served 75 guests between lunch and dinner service at The Publican. Since then, the event has grown considerably. This year, Baconfest held three sessions over two days for 4,500 ticketed guests. Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats of Wisconsin provided 8,000 pounds of bacon to the 170 participating restaurants.

Nathan Sears, the executive chef of The Radler, prepared a PB&J with a side cup of milk. But it was no ordinary children’s favorite. Sears and his team rendered bacon fat for the brioche bread and peanut butter, used bacon bits in the grape jam and infused bacon into the milk.

“We’re happy to harness its deliciousness for good,” Baconfest co-founder Seth Zurer said, “instead of merely raising people’s cholesterol.”

Baconfest supports the Greater Chicago Food Depository by donating a portion of the proceeds. It has raised more than $205,000 for the food bank since 2009 and will give $75,000 this year.

“This is about more than just bacon,” said Brian McAdow. “It’s helping.”

McAdow dressed up for the event in suit and tie, each element of his wardrobe in bacon patterns.

Bacon has become one of the trendiest foods in American food culture. Dishes like bacon ice cream are no longer shocking. Numerous festivals dedicated to the cured meat can be found across the country. Americans spent $4 billion, a record high, on bacon in 2013.

Michael Coppage said he would be surprised if anyone else who attended Baconfest loves bacon more than he does. He drove to Chicago from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“My family’s here,” he said, “but I didn’t even come to see them. I came to eat bacon.”

Coppage said he even commissioned paintings of bacon spelling out the year 2011 for his kitchen to commemorate the year he got married. He called bacon the only meat that is also a garnish, praising the ingredient for its extreme versatility.

Coppage’s wife, Vita, doesn’t quite share his deep love for bacon, but she also doesn’t mind it. She just doesn’t want him eating bacon every day.

“As long as it’s not affecting his health or anything like that,” she said. “I’m good.”

Zurer suspects that Americans adore bacon for nostalgic reasons.

“I think bacon is also something that people have strong emotional connections to,” Zurer said. “They think about their childhood breakfasts at home with their family.”

Photo at top: Strips of bacon fry at Baconfest Chicago in the UIC Forum. (Avinash Chak/Medill)

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