Sizzling: Bacon is the food world's hottest new flavor
It was a strip of thick apple-smoked bacon, partially hidden and half-covered lengthwise by a layer of melted chocolate.
The new delicacy was the brainchild of Michelle Garcia, co-owner of the Chicago eatery, the Bleeding Heart Bakery. Whether she sold her creation to the general public or not, Garcia was going to eat it herself--she had been for years anyway, on the sly.
At the Bleeding Heart, Garcia and her husband, Vinny, stored chocolate above the ovens to keep it just melted enough to drizzle on desserts. Coupled with cooked bacon just feet away, the temptation was usually too great for Michelle.
“It got to the point where we’d have to shoo her away from dipping the bacon in the chocolate,” said Vinny Garcia. “My wife has an obsession with bacon.”
She is not alone. Across the country, bacon’s heyday has arrived. Restaurants, bakeries, and even amateurs are finding new ways to incorporate that traditional smokehouse flavor into previously unheard-of recipes. No longer just cradled around eggs at breakfast, bacon is being adapted for main courses, desserts, and even beverages.
“We’re starting to see bacon more and more in the mainstream than we ever have,” said Amy Carter, a chef instructor at the International Culinary School at the Arts Institutes International of Minnesota. “I absolutely think it has transcended all the borders of what we think is normal.”
The Garcias introduced their new bacon-and-chocolate dessert in February for Valentine’s Day, but they are already having trouble keeping up with demand, selling more than 20 pounds of chocolate-drenched pork each week.
“I've seen bacon added to chocolate chip cookies, too,” said Carter. “It’s a strong trend, because if something makes it here to the Midwest, we know it’s popular with a wider audience.”
Out in the Pacific Northwest, Jocelyn McAuley, a lab technician in Portland, Ore., was making holiday tasting kits for friends and family just before Christmas in 2007 when the idea of a bacon-flavored vodka came to her. “I had all these flavors steeping, with things like lemon and orange peels,” recalled McAuley. “I looked around my kitchen, and I thought, ‘I bet just sticking plain old bacon in vodka would be pretty good.’”
The resulting flavor, she said, was the “smoky essence of bacon”--albeit with a slight kick. Before long, McAuley’s friends were lining up for seconds, or wondering why they had not been treated to any of the new aperitif in the first place.
McAuley posted the recipe on her Web site, Brownie Points, thinking her friends could just make the product themselves. Within days, traffic to her site increased tenfold, making it far and away the most visited entry she has posted. Soon other bloggers were writing about how they had added bacon to other spirits.
The designer bacon binge is also visible at the highest levels of the culinary world. A few years ago, chef Greggory Hill started offering “Bacon Aphrodisiac Dinners” at David Greggory, a restaurant in Washington, D.C. The six-course meal, each course of which featured some form of bacon, became so popular that Hill continued to produce them for small parties at another restaurant, bringing his clientele with him after his restaurant closed.
With bacon’s high concentration of grease, the idea of a six-course meal has nutritionists shaking their heads. “The biggest concern is that the risk of heart disease is great with a high-fat intake,” said Sharon Boggs, a registered dietician at the Baltimore Washington Medical Center. “I’d say you can have one or two pieces two or three times per week, matched with other low-fat foods.”
Heeding Boggs’s warning to a point, Justin Esch and Dave Lefkow, both of Seattle, developed a vegetarian product called J&D’s Bacon Salt, a seasoning with the familiar smoky taste of bacon, but no pork. Esch came up with the idea at a Jewish wedding while espousing the virtues of bacon to a table of people who kept kosher.
Months later, Lefkow fell in love with the idea the first time he heard about it. “When I told Dave the idea for Bacon Salt, it was 2 a.m., and we were in Miami,” Esch added. “I said ‘We should make a seasoning salt that tastes like bacon,’ and he said, ‘Everything should taste like bacon.’”
In early 2007, the first three flavors of Bacon Salt were introduced--Original Smoky, Hickory, and Maple. Just seven months later, the duo had shipped more than 130,000 jars. The product has now reached all 50 states and 33 nations, including--as part of “Operation Bacon Salt”--American soldiers stationed in Muslim countries where eating pork is illegal.
“We figured it would be sort of a slow burn in terms of sales at first,” said Lefkow. “Suddenly we were in our pajamas at 2 a.m. in my garage shipping Bacon Salt to people in Namibia.”
At Bleeding Heart Bakery, though, nothing tops the real thing. “We’ve put bacon in truffles and scones,” said Vinny Garcia. They’ve even added a strip to a cake called “the Elvis,” which contains chocolate, peanut butter and banana bread.
Of course the chocolate-covered bacon draws the most attention. “Literally the only bad reaction we’ve gotten has been from animal rights people,” Garcia said, “but that doesn’t make sense because it’s sitting next to a ham and cheese croissant.”