The final bit of curing salt has been sprinkled, and many a belly left stuffed. Sacramento Bacon Fest 2014 is now in the books, with a week of pork-fueled merriment coming to a head on Sunday afternoon. Pig on the Corner, the banquet room adjacent to midtown’s Mulvaney’s B&L, played home to the hotly contested annual chef’s competition. 12 chefs went mano-a-mano with their best strips of bacon and bacon-themed dishes, while a sold-out crowd of 200 grubbed on bacon appetizers and small plates as DJ Shaun Slaughter kept the mix upbeat through all the feasting.
Once again, I sat on the judge’s panel to help determine the day’s best bacons. With each contestant presenting a traditional slice of bacon, an “alternative” bacon and dish built around bacon - and many submitted even more than this - judging Bacon Fest requires a nearly athletic approach to eating. (The picture above depicts a “bacon banh mi” entry).
The panel, which probably consumed a week’s worth of sodium in the process (and loved every minute of it) 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 Sacto. 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 which supplied the competition’s pork bellies).
With much beer and a little bourbon to fuel our palates, we dug into the day’s bacon-mania and considered carefully. Many of us noted too much saltiness on the single bacon entries. 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 utilized 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.
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All dishes were served blind, and our judging panel came to consensus fairly easy. We all agreed that entry No. 3 was solid all 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 some nice acidity to counter all the fattiness. The dish from No. 8 also wowed us, a crostini with wine braised bacon, bacon-chardonnay butter sauce, brussels sprout, mushroom all topped on a small bed of brie. That sure sounds like a lot of ingredients, but this bite was wonderfully balanced, impeccably tasty and pleasing.
The non-traditional bacon in entry No. 2 was also a slam dunk, a “face bacon” that went easy on the salt yet perfectly smoked and delightful.
All the chefs agreed that entry No. 10 offered the best traditional bacons, but votes were also cast for No. 3. After a brief discussion, we were all good with No. 10 and declared the following winners:
* Best in show: Ian McBride of Lucca
* Best bacon: Michael Tuohy (LowBrau/Block Butcher Bar)
* Best non-traditional bacon: Travis Surmi (Grange)
* Best dish: Rachel Kelley (Revolution Wines)
* “They Love My Bacon” (another judge’s pick): A bacon chimichanga by Brian Mizner (Hook & Ladder)
Meanwhile, the audience award went to Noah Zonca (Capital Dime) while Tuohy also scored the DJ’s choice award. Best cocktail was earned by Chris Dooley of Ella Dining Room & Bar.
Suffice to say, if there’s such a thing as a bacon hangover, plenty of folks were feeling it Monday morning.
Like previous editions of Bacon Fest, the week-long ode to America’s favorite cured meat drew big crowds and brisk business. Tickets for the chef’s 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 on Saturday afternoon. Samuel Horne’s Tavern of Folsom sold over 300 of its bacon-loaded “Death Muffin” during Bacon Fest week.
Organizers are meanwhile taking a brief respite from bacon and mulling ideas for Sacramento Bacon Fest 2015.
“Samuel Horne’s Tavern said (Bacon Fest) was even bigger for them than Sacramento Beer Week,” said Brian Guido, co-founder of Sacramento Bacon Fest. “Bike Dog Brewery said absent of their opening, their (Bacon Fest event on Saturday) was their biggest day. It always amazes me how popular and big this is.”