The gut-busting state of bacon elegance2/4/2015
This year Bacon Fest coincided with Super Bowl week, creating a perfect storm of hyperbole. The pork belly celebration marked its eighth year as a bona fide tourist attraction by passing several milestones. Ticket buyers came from 10 foreign countries and 40 different states. Those are Drake Relays-like numbers. The event now has avatars in Iceland and Colorado, plus bike riding events and an entire week of various activities. Altogether, Bacon Fest sold 42,000 tickets in 2014 and expects to surpass 50,000 by 2016 according to Bacon Fest impresario Brook Reynolds. That’s amazing growth for an event that had failed previously at Living History Farms. The current festival began as a party at El Bait Shop eight years ago and has grown exponentially each year since then.
This year’s week-long celebration kicked off with the sixth annual Bacon Elegance dinner. Instead of saying grace, Bacon Board member Marshall Porter led the group in the chanting of bacon fest’s cheer “oooo bacon.” Porter explained that the chant must end “in that part of human anatomy that has never evolved or changed.” This year’s dinner was prepared by Mike Holman, executive chef of Catering DSM, Big City Burger & Greens and Dos Rios. Holman was fresh off his victory in the Des Moines regional of Culinary Fight Night. That event returns to Des Moines on April 25 -26 for the national semifinals when Holman will face off with the winners of regionals in Chicago, Minneapolis and Milwaukee.
His menu for the Elegance dinner began with “Macho Man’s Pigs in a Blanket.” A Slim Jim made with bacon was stuffed into a puff pastry with Swiss cheese. It was served with smoked ketchup and stone ground mustard and with shoestring potatoes that had been cooked in bacon fat. The course was paired with Peace Tree Brewery’s Red Rambler ale. The following course, called “Nature Boy Salad,” featured arugula, Brussels sprouts, bacon lardons, turnips, butternut squash, toasted sunflower seeds and, of course, kale, also known to food faddists as “the pork belly of vegetables.” The salad was dressed with an interesting vinaigrette which featured a bacon brown butter and was paired with a spiced apple cocktail.
Holman’s main course seemed connected to Culinary Fight Night. Called “The Main Event — Eight Man Tag Match,” it featured a piece of pork belly wrapped in bacon that had been crusted in bacon salt. Creamed leeks were served with pancetta and a bacon cheddar gratin. These were plated with a bacon-washed Bourbon and cider reduction, candied bacon and micro greens that were dressed with a salty bacon vinaigrette. That course was paired with an Edna Valley Chardonnay, a wine just fruity enough to balance bacon’s salinity.
This year’s take on the state of bacon elegance concluded with something called “the powerhouse gut-buster.” Holman infused marshmallows with bacon and toasted them before stuffing them with chocolate covered, candied bacon. That was plated with homemade Graham crackers and a sauce made of espresso and chocolate. The dessert was paired with a “Red Snapper” — a cocktail made with Templeton Rye whiskey, Amaretto, cranberry juice and ginger.
The event was held in the atrium of Capitol Square, which is anticipating a remodeling soon that will add a few nooks and crannies with personalized flooring. Next year’s Bacon Fest will be moved back a month, to late February, in order to avoid caucus season.
David Baruthio says the opening of his downtown steakhouse Prime, previously expected by this new year, has been delayed by issues dealing with the building’s historic status. He hopes now to be open this spring when he will also begin a new series of French cooking classes… B&B Grocery, Meats and Deli in Des Moines, and Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Prairie City, were named sources of the nation’s 10 best pork tenderloins by Serious Eats. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.