Battle of the bacon

By Luke Wilusz

Although local pigs may have cowered in fear, bacon fans had good reason to celebrate when bacon tacos, bacon cupcakes, bacon Bloody Marys and even more bizarre concoctions battled it out for the title of best bacon dish in Chicago.

The Chicago Bacon Takedown—a cooking competition organized by Brooklyn-based actor, producer and food aficionado Matt Timms—challenged local cooks to make their best bacon dishes at home and bring them to Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., on Sept. 11. The food was then rated by both audience and judges, voting to determine which amateur chefs would walk away with the prizes, including knives, cookware and a year’s supply of bacon. The people’s choice winner was Rafael Lopez with his bacon English muffins, and the judges’ choice winners were Marah Eakin and Genevieve Koski of The A.V. Club with their “sow-moa” cookies.

Timms’ first Takedown was a chili cook-off in Brooklyn, which he organized in 2003 in an attempt to offer a more relaxed cooking competition than those he had seen.

“It’s not some vicious throwdown where everyone’s rolling up their sleeves and getting hyper-competitive,” he said. “There’s a real community feel about it. I mean, I’m getting local cooks and their families and friends to come on down, and it ends up being a really positive experience.”

Since then, Timms has toured the Takedown across the country and themed it around a variety of foods, including tofu, fondue, salsa, lamb and chocolate. The first Bacon Takedown took place in Brooklyn in February 2009, and Timms was overwhelmed by the response.

“This bacon craze has really hit America, so I just did this thing, and suddenly 700 people showed up,” he said. “I’m never ready for 700 people. My events are fairly small and intimate, like 200 or 250 people, so I was not ready for that at all.”

Takedown contestant Elise Covic credits the newfound popularity of bacon as an ingredient in a variety of dishes to its general versatility.

“Everything is easier with bacon because, basically, if you have a recipe that’s just so-so, if you add bacon to it, suddenly it’s awesome,” Covic said.

She entered the competition with a group of her friends, submitting sea salt caramels with bacon on the inside, a bacon-and-asiago quiche with sautéed onions and bacon fat ginger snaps.

Caitlin Roth, 26, of Bucktown, entered the Chicago Bacon Takedown with her bacon toffee caramel corn, which included homemade toffee, candied pecans and peanuts, bacon clusters and popcorn popped with bacon fat to give it additional flavor. She believes Chicago has an advantage against other cities that hosted Bacon Takedowns.

“I think Chicago’s will probably be the best because of our location in the Midwest, and our proximity to some of the nation’s best pig farming,” Roth said. “I think [as] Chicagoans, we really know our pork.”

Timms likes to focus his competitions on amateur at-home cooking because of the personal touch it lends to the food.

“The experience I’ve had and the reason I do this is because I have this idea that the food I’ve loved best is made by people who are friends of mine,” he said. “The food that I’ve always remembered the most is from people who are making it in a very personal way.”

Roth agrees home cooking offers a dining experience that eating out—no matter how good the restaurant is—just can’t match.

“It’s one thing to sit around a restaurant table in a room full of strangers, and it’s another thing to sit in somebody’s home kitchen with your friends and have a couple glasses of wine,” she said. “It makes it a much more personal, intimate experience.”

Timms said he thinks his Takedowns encourage this sort of heartfelt home cooking, which he sees less of these days.

“People in this day and age are cooking less, and they shouldn’t be,” Timms said. “When you go to an event like this, and you see this thing across the tables—how people prepared all this amazing stuff—you realize it’s something you can do yourself.”

For a full list of contestants and winners in the Chicago Bacon Takedown or for information about future Takedowns, visit