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March 21, 2009
Inspired by last year's creative cooking competition and exhibition called CupcakeCamp and in solidarity with the growing popularity of events (see the recent Grilled Cheese Invitational), the first BaconCamp took place over the weekend. It was a well-organized and smoothly run event that simultaneously demonstrated just how much of a high bacon is currently on in terms of notoriety and how far people are able to stretch one culinary theme.
People were greeted at the door by free stickers and buttons with great slogans like "I'd kill a petite beagle for a bacon sandwich" and "If God didn't want us to eat bacon, why did he make it out of bacon?" People were also offered BLTs by Dr. Bacon, who wasn't an official contestant but just felt the swine spirit of the day.
The expert panel of judges ranged from the founder of CupcakeCamp to several online bacon luminaries to the founder of BaconFest to "just some dude that really loves bacon." Contestants explained their entries and wheeled them around on little tables for the judges to sample and rate before shuttling them through the crowd to be devoured there and on the "extras table."
During brief breaks in the competition, there were bacon-related lectures. A talk on bacon as art was especially fun, as the artists presented two giant eggs sculpted out of strips and showed a Power Point presentation of their Obacon project, a recreation of the famous Obama Hope poster. It was great to see the pork as a muse for something other than eating, although molding all of that stuff certainly must require a strong stomach.
In addition to the first and second prizes, there were several sub-categories that were given awards by the judges, and these winners were awarded some pretty cool bacon booty.
Those categories included Best Presentation, given to the Amen-inducing reverend who presented maple-bacon lollipops; Most Likely to Tempt a Veggie, for bacon hummus served on sourdough rounds and raw vegetables (which I was seemingly alone in hating); and Best Effort, Worst Food, to a fellow who explained that his own poop was the inspiration for making his bacon brownies. His presentation was early on in the competition, and didn't set the most appetizing tone. I declined to try one, as did many others.
Appetites were quickly regained to try the chicken fried bacon with sausage gravy, which was so wrong and yet so amazing: Two bites was more than enough to feel like the arteries had been sent directly to hell, but it was definitely worth it. Fortunately, they were nugget-sized, which was actually quite thoughtful. This dish ended up snagging the runner-up honors, as decided by the audience, who placed stickers by their favorite items listed on the day's menu boards.
The grand prize of the day (again, as decided by the people) went to Heather Lynch for her Maker's Mark ice cream with a maple caramel swirl and bits of candied bacon, the recipe for which she generously shares on her delicious food blog Mooflyfood. The ice cream was long gone before I could get a crack at it, but I did get to taste her pecan bacon lace cookies, which were the best bites I had the whole time. Here, pecan did most of the work, with the bacon providing a pleasingly faint background note. Her delicate restraint in balancing these flavors was refreshing compared to some of the heavier handed efforts. Luckily, she posted the recipe for that one too, so we're all winners here.
Personal bias: Pro-bacon.
Random detail: Organizers made a cute video to explain bacon's undying buzz on the Internet.
By the way: All donations from the event will be given to the American Heart Association.