If you’re vegetarian, stop reading now
Seth Zurer, the cofounder of Chicago’s Baconfest, answers a few questions about his favorite meaty treat.
If anyone in Chicago can be called a baconmaster, it would probably be Seth Zurer, AB’99. In 2008, with his friends Andre Pluess, AB’96, and Michael Griggs, he started Chicago’s first Baconfest, inviting dozens of local chefs to create small bites featuring the key ingredient. This year’s fest, the fourth annual, sold all 3,000 tickets shortly after they were released in February (the number of tickets was almost doubled from 2011).
In May, about two weeks after the 2012 event, Zurer had just about decompressed from his largest Baconfest ever and had time to answer a few questions.
When did you discover your love for bacon?
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in pork. I grew up in a typical American Jewish home—we didn’t keep kosher, but we also didn’t flaunt our defiance of kashrut. There were levels of acceptable treif: Buddig ham was OK, but not a whole spiral-cut ham; a crab feast was fine, but never pork chops; cheeseburgers, yes, but no milk with dinner. I remember eating bacon out with my dad when I was seven years old at the Roy Rogers breakfast bar, and I was hooked.
If you met someone who’d never tried bacon before, how would you describe it to him?
Somebody said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. I’d apply that logic to bacon—it’s futile to try to describe the taste of anything. So, instead of laboring over a perfect description, I’d head out to one of the Baconfest restaurants or the Nueske’s smokehouse and give ’em some.
What are your favorite bacon-related activities?
Baconfest is a fun one. We get 3,000 of our closest friends into a room with 100 bacon-loving chefs, 20-ish bacontrepreneurs, and a bunch of tasty booze, and let the good times roll. Everybody has a ball.
Bacon dishes: savory or sweet?
I’m catholic in my bacon preferences—if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from the last four years of being a bacon impresario, it’s that you can’t always predict what you’re going to like. I’ve been pleasantly surprised much more often than turned off when I’ve given bacon a chance. At this year’s festival, I was particularly fond of Big Jones dish: roasted bacon with a bacon-fat bennecake biscuit and piccalilli.
In your opinion, what is the best way to cook bacon?
I like bacon to be cooked/cut in a way appropriate to its context. In a BLT, I want thick-cut bacon, cooked medium crisp. Next to eggs, thin slices well-done. In a salade lyonnaise, you want thick lardons; in pasta carbonara, crumbles; in a Chinese casserole, a fatty slab braised fork tender.
What are your top tips for things to do around the country related to bacon?