I’m a fan of bacon, a big fan. I’ve enjoyed the Porcine Pork-a-Palooza, Baconfest, the past 2 years and enjoying its growth and rabid, dedicated fan base. This past year it seemingly doubled in size with TWO sessions to eat, lunch and dinner. But is bigger better?
After 4 years, the event has gone national and become a landmark, circle your calendar event many look forward to on the Chicago food scene. Yet, I think the 5th year needs to be one of focused change. With 3,000 guests, 107 restaurants, 9 alcohol sponsors and 18 bacontreprenuers, perhaps less is more. Before you come at me with the pitchforks, hear me out.
Let’s start with the good – Nueske’s is an amazing bacon and sponsor. I hope that relationship never changes. A quality event should have a quality vendor and not sell out to some large label just for the dollars and product. I like that there are a lot of diverse restaurants involved and that they’re from all over the city. But, I’ll get in to this in a bit, I think it’s also the biggest weakness. The Bacon fans are a dedicated lot and I know they’ll continue to come out if the event is this professional and well run. The trash recycling was very responsible but maybe a few more throughout the inside of the event?
On to the not so good…
9 alcohol sponsors? There was a certain vodka that smells like burnt tires and tastes little like bacon – smoke maybe but not bacon. I would hope the founders get a bit more judicious in who they let in for future events. I like that it’s an alcohol friendly event but can we get better liquor? I also didn’t see any soda. A can of coke after plate 5 would have been fantastic! The grease from the bacon needs something to cut it and for me that’s a soda – maybe that’s personal preference but it would be great.
My biggest woe was some of the chef’s offerings. I have this issue at most food events so this isn’t a problem exclusive to baconfest. Many chefs come with the philosophy bigger is better – uh, no! A decent portion size is nice and if it’s really good I’ll sneak a second one. But to give me a portion that dwarfs a cocktail plate, means half is going in the trash and makes me think you don’t get how to serve at these events. There wasn’t a lot of overlap of similar dishes but with the focus on bacon, I think you run in to two big challenges. First, it should taste like there’s bacon in the dish. A fewdidn’t and again it makes me wonder – have you tasted this? We’re not talking seasoning but this dish has no bacon flavor. I know there’s bacon in it but it’s how you use that bacon. Second, too much bacon can be an obstacle. It sounds ridiculous but it’s true. Everything else you were trying to do with the dish is lost because you buried it in bacon – that’s fine but if that’s the goal just serve me a piece of rendered bacon. I won’t complain.
I can’t wait to experience the hype and march to Bacon Madness in 2013. The Baconfest founders have done a great job of growing the event and working with the Greater Chicago Food Depository not only at the event but throughout the year. I hope the future growth is focused and the chefs can bring the bacon better than ever.
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Joe also contributes to Eater.com Chicago and Mydailyfind.com - Chicago.