The final bit of curing salt has been sprinkled, the last morsel of meat devoured.
Sacramento Bacon Fest 2014 is now in the books, with a week of pork-fueled merriment coming to a crescendo Sunday afternoon at Pig on the Corner, the banquet room adjacent to midtown’s Mulvaney’s B&L. At the annual chefs competition, 12 local culinary artists went mano-a-mano, offering up their best bacon-themed dishes, while a sold-out crowd of 200 grubbed on bacon appetizers and small plates and DJ Shaun Slaughter kept the event upbeat.
Like previous editions of Bacon Fest, this year’s weeklong celebration of America’s favorite cured meat drew big crowds and brisk business. Tickets for the chefs competition sold out in 80 minutes. Bows & Arrows was packed Friday with its Beats, Beer & Bacon! event, while Selland’s Market Cafe in east Sacramento dished out 200 servings of its bacon paella Saturday afternoon. Samuel Horne’s Tavern of Folsom sold more than 300 of its bacon-loaded “Death Muffin” during Bacon Fest week.
“Bike Dog Brewery said absent of their opening, their (Bacon Fest event on Saturday) was their biggest day,” said Brian Guido, co-founder of Sacramento Bacon Fest. “It always amazes me how popular and big this is.”
Organizers added they already are mulling ideas for Sacramento Bacon Fest 2015.
At Sunday’s chefs competition, a panel of judges was tapped to determined the day’s best bacon fare. With each chef presenting a traditional slice of bacon, an “alternative” bacon (such as lamb bacon, pork shoulder bacon) and dish built around bacon (and many submitted even more than this), judging Bacon Fest required an Olympian approach to eating.
In addition to this reporter, the panel included Mike Thiemann (owner/chef of Mother), Brad Cecchi ( former charcuterie master of Grange, now in Cleveland), John Gurnee (former chef of Kupros Bistro and other Sacramento spots, now at Menlo Park’s LB Steak), Becky Grunewald (writer/editor for Sacramento Foodways/Edible Sacramento) and Charles Thieriot of Rancho Llano Seco (the Chico purveyor that supplied the competition’s pork bellies).
Chefs were required to cure their own bacons, and many on the panel commented that single bacon entries often tasted too salty. Cecchi said that dialing in the proper amount of saltiness can be tricky – it’s not like you can taste as you go along – and curing ratios often have to be tweaked depending on how they’ll be used in the final dish. If the bacon is going to be paired with, say, a hoisin sauce, the cure would want to go easier on the salt. But sometimes, Cecchi said, you just start curing and hope for the best.
Dishes in the competition included an artfully plated “Bacon 50 Ways” from Esquire Grill’s Scott Ostrander, a fregula pasta carbonara via Tuli Bistro’s Adam Pechal, and a bacon dessert showcasing brittle and candied bacon from Noah Zonca of Capital Dime.
All dishes were served blind to the judges, and the panel came to its consensus fairly easily, agreeing that entry No. 3 was solid across the board, from the balanced flavors in its single strip bacon and shoulder bacon, and a wonderful dish of bacon confit topped with a fermented red cabbage that provided acidity to counter the fattiness.
Dish No. 8 also wowed the panel: a crostini with wine braised bacon, bacon-chardonnay butter sauce, brussels sprout, mushroom all topped on a small bed of brie – balanced, impeccably tasty and pleasing.
The nontraditional bacon in entry No. 2 was also a slam dunk, a “face bacon” created from pork jowl that went easy on the salt yet was richly delightful.
In the end, the winners were:
• Best in show: Ian McBride (Lucca, primarily for the balanced bacon strip and bacon-confit-with-red-cabbage dish);
• Best bacon: Michael Tuohy (LowBrau/Block Butcher Bar);
• Best nontraditional bacon: Travis Surmi (Grange, for the “face bacon”);
• Best dish: Rachel Kelley (Revolution Wines, for the crostini with wine braised bacon);
• “They Love My Bacon” (special judges’ selection): A bacon chimichanga by Brian Mizner (Hook & Ladder).
Meanwhile, the audience award went to Zonca, while Tuohy also scored the DJ’s choice award. Best cocktail was earned by Chris Dooley of Ella Dining Room & Bar.
Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.