The closest my dog will get to Baconfest. Photo by Patty Michels
You guys, I don’t actually like bacon. I know. That’s like saying I don’t like sunshine or babies. Which I also kind of don’t. But just like zombies, bacon is having its cultural moment and Chicago food writer, software analyst and bacon enthusiast Seth Zurer is thrilled. Along with Andre Pluess and Michael Griggs, Zurer was driven to found Baconfest in order to share his passion for pork with the masses. A succulent success in 2011, Baconfest is back this year, bigger and better. Zurer spoke with Our Town about what those lucky enough to attend the sold out fest can expect.
Our Town Bacon: Always tasty but only recently culturally celebrated. Why so trendy all of a sudden?
Seth Zurer I think that we're in a Golden Age of Bacon. Chefs have always loved bacon, but they didn't always have the kind of exposure that they do now; they're hosting talk shows, travel shows, cooking shows. They're the new media darlings and celebrity stars [and] they've brought to the general public an enthusiasm for local craft bacon that dovetails nicely with the farm-to-table, locavore, artisan food movement on the rise in the culture. Or it could just be that bacon is damn good?
OT What inspired you to create Baconfest?
SZ My two partners, Andre Pluess and Michael Griggs, attended a rock'n'roll puppet musical called "Beer" that the NeoFuturists put on in 2009. They were impressed that the creators of the show had been so passionate about beer that they'd want to create a whole production devoted to it. After the show, they sat down to talk about what thing they felt as passionately about and bacon immediately came up. Pretty shortly, they'd dropped the idea of a musical, and settled on a festival instead - a "Burning Man" of bacon. I had some experience in the restaurant media world and was known for my love of pork, so they called me up to see if I thought it was a good idea. I did, it was, and here we are!
OT What kind of restaurants and vendors can attendees expect?
SZ We've got chefs from the best restaurants in the city - celebrities like top chefs Heather Terhune from Sable and Stephanie Izard from Girl & the Goat; craft people like Art and Chelsea Jackson from Pleasant House Bakery and Charlie McKenna of Lillies Q, fine dining powerhouses like Cafe Spiaggia and Vie, gastropubs like Three Aces and the Bristol. Our vendors include artisan local bacon makers like Nueske's, Dreymiller and Kray, Spenser's Jolly Posh British and Irish Foods, JDY Gourmet, and Big Fork Bacon Sausage, plus bacon entrepreneurs like Meng Yang of Know Your Flag who makes unbelievably stylish bacon prints and tee shirts. Drinks from Goose Island, Greenbush Brewery, Pabst and More.
OT Nueske's Amateur Cookoff saw 33 candidates submitting recipes for bacon-y dishes incorporating Nueske's bacon. You helped choose finalists who will then attend Baconfest. What was that process like?
SZ It was tough - contestants submitted recipes and in many cases photos of their original recipes. We asked our fans to help choose by opening up voting on our website - over 4500 votes were cast. Then we consulted our friends at Nueske's and chose five that spoke to us and to our fans. Those five finalists will all get to attend the fest and present their dish to a panel of judges. One lucky winner will receive a Golden Rasher Award, the Oscar of Bacon.
One of the offerings at Baconfest 2011
OT Although the fest is sold out, a lucky bacon poet can win admission by writing an ode to bacon. Any secrets to a winning submission?
SZ We love cleverness! And we love bacon! So, poems that are clever and are about bacon have the best chance. My partner Andre personally reads every entry aloud to his wife in a sort of one-man bacon Poetry Slam - it is his favorite contest of the year. It is not, I am told, his wife's favorite.
OT Baconfest is partnering with the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Can you talk about that a little?
SZ When we first thought of the fest, we were mostly interested in the bacon part. But as we moved through our first year, we realized that Baconfest could afford us an opportunity to rally our bacon community around a cause that we all believe in - ending hunger. Thanks to the generosity of our chefs and sponsors, we're able to make a donation to the Greater Chicago Food Depository out of the ticket proceeds - we're planning to give $40,000 this year. Plus we'll have a food drive at the event - last year, our guests brought over 1600 lbs of non-perishable food for the GCFD to distribute. And this year, for the first time, we're hosting a volunteer day at the Food Depository on May 5th.
OT What’s your favorite type of bacon?
SZ Depends on the context! With eggs, you can't beat Nueskes. On a BLT, I like thick-cut Dreymiller & Kray pepper bacon. In my pasta, I like little chunks of George's Bosnian Slab Bacon. Every bacon has its place.
OT Ever worry about your cholesterol?
SZ Nope! My wife does, a little.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez and Facebook.