Last year at this time, I had the fun opportunity to go to Baconfest Chicago (which you can read about here).
I brought my friend Drew (hi Drew!), we got drunk, and ate a lot of baconed-out things. It was great and we had a very fun time. But this year, something different happened.
I was asked to be a Baconfest judge by one of the co-founders of Baconfest Chicago.
That is Seth on the right. He has a very handsome smile. I am the guy on the left with a penguin sticking out of his sweater, which isn’t strange at all. If you look carefully at my hand, I am clutching Mr. Bee, who is generally too small to do anything. When Seth asked me to participate, I immediately climbed on top of a building naked and started shouting obscene things.
I said to myself, “Dannis Ree, being a judge of a big food festival is a very big responsibility. You must do this and show the world what it is like to be such a powerful human being. When you are asked to judge a food festival, this immediately elevates you into becoming a god among food writers. You are allowed to go around telling people that you are a judge for a very big festival and maybe a girl will finally go out on a date with you and you will stop crying so much.”
I became drunk with power! Power tastes like slightly elevated self-esteem.
In order to be an interesting judge like me, you need to have the most important food blog in the world.
My blog, as you all know, involves me eating a lot of pet food, baby formula, and garbage. I am shortening my lifespan by an exponential rate, and this kind of sacrifice is what it takes to become a judge for a very big food event.
To start, the five judges were assigned a section of the festival floor.
Our goal was to pick the most creative use of bacon. We all decided that it was just as important that the dish taste absolutely delicious as well as being creative.
Since there were so many entries to try, it would be very difficult for each judge to eat at every booth, which is why we were each assigned territories. Our mission was to pick our single favorite from our area. Then we would decide upon the best of those five picks at the end. Once we received our sectors, we all ran out of the secret judging room with our arms flailing above our heads, screaming, “Let’s eat bacon!”
Then I tripped and fell and sprained my penis.
As you can see, there were a lot of people eating bacon.
All of them were vegans, because it is a well-known fact that vegans enjoy bacon. While I didn’t go around telling the participating restaurants that I was a judge, it was kind of easy to tell what I was up to when I started scribbling notes down, muttering loudly, “Judge judge judge, judge judge judge.”
Before I started judging, however, I decided to get drunk.
These were fancy Manhattans, which were nice and strong. I drank three on an empty stomach so I could awaken my inner jackass. The main issue is that I am always a jackass.
One of the first dishes I ate was a mezcal and maguey leaf braised pork shoulder, applewood smoked Nueske’s slab, bacon infused tapioca pearls, bacon dusted potato sticks and bacon crystals from a place called Revolucion Steakhouse.
This dish was extremely porky, just like your mother. The bacon was tender and moist, and the pork shoulder had a tart and smoky flavor from the mezcal.
Another place I sampled was Knife & Tine, which had bacon cotton candy and soft bacon pretzels.
They had a very fun booth to look at. They even had a wheel you could spin to win prizes. No, your mother was not one of them.
One of the people outside their booth was making balloon animals for children.
I do not normally ask to pose for photos with strangers, as they often threaten to call the police on me, but for some reason she obliged. This is the most human contact I have had in five years. Even though I appear to be smiling in that photo, that is just the face I make when I can feel my heart withering away.
Speaking of strangers, as I was walking around, someone elbowed me and pointed to a person in the crowd. I looked carefully and realized it was stand-up comedian Hannibal Burress, who I think is fantastic.
I walked up to him and said, “Hey man, welcome back to Chicago.”
He gave me a big grin and said, “Thanks, man.” And that was it. No, I did not hassle him for a photo, nor did I try to get him to read my blog. I just wanted to leave him alone to enjoy bacon like everyone else.
I did wander around quite a bit too, even though I was supposed to be stuffing my face with smoked pork belly.
Travelle Kitchen and Bar decided to fool around and make pork pop tarts.
Eat a dick, Kellogg’s.
Or put bacon into your Pop Tarts.
This corn dish is a popular street food in Chicago, and it is called elotes.
Elotes is a mixture of corn, mayonnaise, lime juice, chili powder, butter, and cheese. You can buy it from street carts during the summer for a few bucks, either in a cup or on the cob. This fancy version from Flo Cafe & Bar had bacon, hatch chiles from New Mexico, and all the other typical toppings.
This chicken-fried braised bacon from Vincent Restaurant was a hit.
My cousin, who was my guest for the event, said it was very good. They ran out before I could grab this one, and so I cried a lot.
There are always desserts too.
This one is from Black Dog Gelato, my favorite gelato shop in the city of Chicago.
Turns out bacon goes pretty well with cake and iced dairy desserts.
Are people tired of bacon yet? I honestly do not think so. Fads come and go, but bacon will remain forever. A friend of mine, who lived as a vegan for a long time, confided in me that she quit being a vegan because she missed bacon too much.
Harvey and Mr. Bee are in this photo for scale, just to show you how big these giant baconated S’mores are.
It is generally not recommended to bring stuffed animals to a food festival, because everyone will think you are crazy and they will avoid you. I received a bunch of strange looks, more out of pity than anything else. It is fun to talk about being 35 while taking photos of stuffed animals at home, but in public, people will judge you with their piercing eyes, stabbing you deep within your heart, amplifying that sense of futility and loneliness that will haunt you for the rest of your long and cold days.
After I finally made my pick, I returned to the secret judging room to wait for my fellow judging buddies.
I played with Harvey and Mr. Bee until I realized everyone was looking at me.
Some very nice volunteers wrote down all of our top picks and brought back samples for every one of us, five in total.
This is what happens when you are a judge. Other people do nice things for you. I wielded my power with kindness and compassion.
This pick, from judge Catherine de Orio (she’s the television show host for Chicago’s Check, Please!) was a bacon plin (basically a really tiny cute ravioli) in a dijon serrano jus by Osteria Langhe.
The pasta was pillowy with a slight bite, its filling meaty, smooth, and rich, and the slightly smoky serrano chile broth was a salty and savory accompaniment to the delicate pasta packets.
This pick, from NewCity food and drink editor, David Hammond, was the bacon pop tart I took photos of earlier.
Its filling was a very sweet bacon jam, packed with little bits of bacon. The pastry was flaky and rich, and I liked it very much. It really did taste like a fancy Pop Tart, in a very good way.
This pick was from Fooditor’s Michael Gebert, and it was a bacon rye sourdough tartine with crawfish, harissa, and broccoli rabe on top.
Absolutely delicious. The toasted sourdough was tart with a good exterior crunch and a soft interior, and, well, I love crawfish. The harissa added a touch of sweetness, while the broccoli rabe was nice and bitter.
My pick was by Sunda New Asian, and it was a Filipino turon, which is sort of like a fried spring roll with banana and jackfruit in it.
It had candied bacon on top, along with a purple yam whipped cream. I enjoyed the flavor, and out of my assigned section, it really was the most interesting dish; the spring pea arancini and bacon (fried rice ball) from Amazing Edibles Catering was a close second.
The last dish, picked by Tanya Nueske of Nueske’s bacon (a sponsor of Baconfest), was Monti’s bacon and pork belly chili dog egg roll.
Life is a boomerang. Monti’s beat my ass in a cookoff last year with this recipe. I came in second, but they deserved to win, because this egg roll was very, very, good. I never thought a hot dog egg roll could taste so good. Since I am a professional, I did not let the memory of bitter tears in my mouth sway my decision.
After some deliberation, we narrowed our favorites down to The Radler (the tartine) and Osteria Longhe (the pasta).
Unlike the one time I served on jury duty, we did not get angry at each other or raise our voices about cops and injustice. A simple final poll between the five judges gave the winner 3 votes out of 5.
In case you can’t read my miserable excuse for handwriting, Osteria Langhe took home the win.
As always (I think this is my fourth time at Baconfest now?), I had a wonderful time being a god among men due to my culinary disaster blog, and my cousin and I had a great time stuffing our faces with pork belly. If you want to read a much better take on the judging process, check out Michael Gebert’s version at Fooditor. He does not talk about penises like I do, because he is a real food writer and I am a loser.
Harvey and Mr. Bee had a terrific time getting out of the house for once, and they actually tried to run away with the balloon girl from earlier.
I caught them before those little rascals escaped. And now they smell like bacon.
[And a final note: I can’t believe you guys are still sending me donations. I love you all so much.]