How far can the bacon boom go? For many, the city of Chicago included, bacon seems to be the gift that keeps on giving in all forms. It’s a multidimensional piece of pork that’s both universal and kitschy. The latter seen most recently at Baconfest Chicago, a two-day, three-session dinner that forked out 7,800 pounds of bacon to 4,500 guests.

More than 160 Chicago-area chefs took part in the creative boom and were asked to dish out 1,000 portions each, more than 95 percent of whom used longtime sponsor and family-owned Wisconsin bacon producer Neuske’s Bacon, offered in three choices of bacon and in both slab and slice form. In this atmosphere, the chefs are constantly challenged to expose the dynamic flavors of the meat in a simple bite form, and the competitive edge of their process was not unnoticed.

In the line leading up to Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse booth, two ticket holders in caricatured pig masks slurped Chef James O’Donnell’s clams casino broth with caramelized bacon, Calabrian chiles and bacon fat bread crumbs. Bacon pirates—in full Pirates of the Caribbean, bacon-themed garb—taste-tested Chef Evan Percoco’s (of State & Lake at The Wit Hotel) brown sugar barbecue bacon potato chip macarons with homemade cheddar whizz. Other favorites of the weekend included Sunda’s (Chef Jess De Guzman) applewood smoked bacon ensaymada, a light Fillipino style brioche with adobo bacon, cheese and creamed sweet butter. Chef Cory Morris of Mercat a la Planxa was all smiles dishing out a high-end version of puppy chow: an Ajo Blanco panna cotta with bacon marmalade and chicharone puppy chow, while Frontier’s Chef Brian Jupiter served up a Creole shrimp and bacon etoufee. Chef Timothy Cottini (seen right) of Fork serves up a bacon quiche with bacon crust, basil custard and petite basil and radish salad

Mercat a la Planxa
Thick cut, thin cut, peppered, smoked, applewood smoked, cherrywood smoked: the sheer varieties on the market have lent a hand to the popularity of the culinary favorite—bacon sales in the U.S. have increased in each of the last four years, according to market researcher Information Resources, Inc. 

And the popularity of the meat and event has translated into more than not-so-good-for-you food. Baconfest Chicago, a large supporter of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, donated a portion of the ticket sales, $75,000 in 2014, to the city’s food bank. Since 2009, they've donated $205,000 to the cause—translating into well over a half-million meals for hungry Chicagoans.  

This everything’s-better-with-bacon fad isn't behaving like a fad. In addition to a growing attendance (the first Baconfest in 2009 included only 75 attendees), the number of sponsors, beverage partners and participating restaurants has grown exponentially in only five years. It's a testament. That salty, fatty, smokey strip of pork isn't losing its appeal.