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Baconfest: 'It's Like Heaven'

By Quinn Ford | April 21, 2013 9:17am

NEAR WEST SIDE — Daniel Cribbs said as soon as he heard there was a festival dedicated to bacon, he knew he had to go.

"I was Googling bacon because I love it so much, and the first hit was Baconfest," Cribbs said.

That was two years ago. Cribbs said he tried both years to get tickets, but each time the event was sold out. This year, he said his girlfriend surprised him with tickets.

"I'm excited man," Cribbs said. "I've been waiting for this for months."

Cribbs and 3,000 other bacon lovers converged Saturday at the UIC Forum for Chicago's fifth annual Baconfest. The event featured more than 120 chefs from across the Chicago area restaurants who served up everything from the classic B.L.T. to bacon cupcakes to bacon Bloody Marys.

And people could not wait to try everything Baconfest had to offer. Tickets went on sale for the event in February and sold out in 41 minutes.

It was a packed house, with festival goers moving almost shoulder to shoulder from booth to booth trying bacon-inspired small plates.

Ryan See, the owner of Bridgehouse Tavern said the event is a chance for chefs to get creative with the pork product.

"You got to appeal to the masses obviously but still be interesting enough but not scare people off," See explained. "You don't want to get too crazy, but you have to be interesting and somewhat mysterious."

See described his chef and partner, Mark Hemmer, as a "sick, sick man" who came up with his restaurant's dish for the event: bacon bread pudding wrapped in bacon with bacon and bourbon caramel, bacon sugar and fried rinds.

Little Market chef Matt Jozwiak was serving up pork belly B.L.T.s with bacon jam at his booth. Like many other restaurants featured at Baconfest, Jozwiak said Little Market had just opened.

"We're a new restaurant, so we're just out to meet people and show people what we can do," Jozwiak said.

"We're down to support the cause too," he added.

While event organizers bill Baconfest as "a celebration of bacon gluttony," the event also benefits the Greater Chicago Food Depository. A portion of ticket sales — $50,000 — was donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, who has partnered with the event for the past four years.

Not every booth featured a complicated bacon dish. Doug McDonald, of Jones Dairy Farm, cut slices pork belly as people posed for photos next to a giant smoked pork belly.

"We have a novel idea. We're serving bacon at Baconfest, just bacon," McDonald said. "People love it."

McDonald said Jones Dairy Farm has dished out bacon at the event for three years and said he plans to keep doing so.

"It's awesome. We love coming here, and we'll be back next year," he said.

Festival goers were not limited to just eating bacon. There were several bacon-inspired cocktails and brews served as well.

Mixologist Greg Buttera at the Barrelhouse Flat said his booth created a cocktail with bacon fat-washed rum, orange bitters, fresh cherry juice, dry sherry and a pinch of salt, served with bacon garnish, of course.

Buttera said the event was a fun opportunity to come up with a new drink.

"Bacon is probably my favorite thing in the whole world, so I'm having a blast," he said. "This is amazing."

Festival goers had about three hours to eat as much bacon as humanly possible. Steve Reed, who was attending Baconfest for the second straight year, could only think of one way to describe it.

"Pretty damn awesome," Reed said with a smile.

Reed's friend, Bill Stern, said he sat at his computer repeatedly clicking "refresh" in order to get tickets for the event. And he said Saturday the effort was definitely worth it.

"It's like heaven," Stern said.