More importantly, this was the springboard for my culinary adventures in San Francisco, after which there was no looking back.
It was exactly one year ago that I attended this event as a spectator thanks to a tip from my sister (best sister EVER, by the way), and ever since have kept in contact with many of the participants and organizers. So, when Takedown creator Matt Timms needed a judge, my connections paid off in dividends. A mere twelve turns of the calendar and I found myself on the opposite side of the event that started it all.
This year, fourteen bacontestants, all local and from the Bay Area, went belly to belly for the Takedown crown. The only rule: use 15 pounds of Hormel Bacon.
First up – Krista (who works in software) served the ‘Lil’ Squealer’ – a meatball composed of mostly bacon, with some ground pork and ground beef for texture, gently sauced with her mother’s marinara and sprinkled with a bacon Parmesan bacon crumble.
Next came last year’s champion, Ivy Something! An artist developer by day, Ivy was inspired by a desire to take her first ever trip to Hawai’i, so she topped a bacon waffle with coconut-dusted chicken and drizzled a creamy ginger pineapple key lime sauce.
No stranger to the Takedown was three-year veteran Dontaye Ball – who many of you may know as the mastermind behind Good Foods Catering, offering some of the best damn barbeque this side of the Mississippi. Bringing his famous pork belly sliders, Ball built belly, bacon barbecue sauce, and bacon mayo between buns.
(There were cherry tomatoes and greens, too, but that threw off my alliteration.)
Unfortunately, the belly was a little bit too tough, the edges not crispy, and the ratio of bun to filling was not in the meat’s favor by a long shot.
But that sauce…
Gerald and Ed of B. Street Waffles warmed their signature maple-bacon varietal for their entry.
“Fresh baked waffles with your choice of topping baked in!” Gerald explained.
“Well, if they’re baked inside, you can't consider them toppings, can you?”
"No no no - the toppings are baked INSIDE the waffle."
"...right, but...never mind."
Despite not comprehending the joke, he handed me a waffle with a smile. While others incorporated waffles into their dishes, this was the only one that made the cake a centerpiece. The sweet maple flavor dominated, with the bacon coming through lightly at the end. And while I appreciated the hunks of pork inside, I found the waffle greasy - mushy on the outside and extremely chewy and dense, even a bit hard, on the inside.
Elaine and A.J. attempted a healthier take on the otherwise artery-clogging dishes of the day - a nearly impossible task. Quinoa was tossed with bacon, black beans, celery, orange bell pepper, scallions and herbes de provence. A cool, summery salad with bright fresh notes would have been ideal for a picnic in the park. The bacon itself had been cooked with chili flakes, giving the whole salad a warmth that contrasted the otherwise cold mixture.
A lot more bacon.
Much respect for trying to up the healthy standard, though!
‘S’more Bacon Please’ was the creation of Facebook employee Joyce and her fiancé Kevin who is the first elevator salesman I have ever met. Home made from the bottom up, a crumbly yet soft graham cracker served as the base for a sliver of candied bacon, hand-crafted torched-to-order ooey gooey marshmallows and a squirt of salted caramel sauce for this open-faced campfire delight.
Stephanie spent three whole days making mini sourdough bread bowls for Thomas' bacon, potato and cheddar soup. The presentation was awesome, and freshly baked bread was phenomenal - a true San Franciscan sourdough. Unfortunately, the 'soup' was thick and gritty, relatively plain, and caused the whole dish to turn into a sloppy mush. Not a huge fan, here.
As a bonus, they served a scoop of not-quite-set rum bacon, which was a huge savior. Sugar, rum, bacon. That is a recipe for success! It was super salty in the best way, and the rum came on strong without having an alcoholic bite to it. If that had set fully into a brittle or caramel, I might have passed out with joy.
Crispy outsides gave way to silky smooth interiors that captured the essence of each region. The German variety took me back to the beer hall meals I had in Munich, though in an infinitely smaller portion.
The Asian version tasted almost like a mini sushi balls, sans rice.
I can honestly say this was the first time I've ever complimented another man on his balls.
Her second submission was bacon Jello strip. I've never been a fan of gelatin-based desserts. I often find them to be flavorless and plain. This was no exception - while there was bit of artificial apple wood bacon essence, it was mostly a watered down jiggly rectangle. Though I was impressed with the presentation as a bacon strip!
Jim Angelus needs no introduction, though you may know him better as the Bacon Bacon Truck guy. No stranger to experimenting with bacon recipes, his Chicken Fried Bacon Bombs were indeed explosive – bacon wrapped belly, beef and bleu cheese, battered in a bacon, pepper and sriracha mixture and deep-fried with a secret sauce.
Speaking with him afterwards he did mention people already tweeting him requesting he bring these to the truck.
Keep an eye out.
Back for her second year was Chef Trace Williams. After initially being denied entry into the venue, due to the fact that her assistant and son was under age, Chef Trace generously gave away nearly half of her entry to the homeless and passers-by, until she was finally granted access. What she did produce was a Baconnoli – a bacon lace cookie with a bacon and mascarpone filling.
Finally, we were given a deconstructed wonton. Consisting of a wonton wrapper fried in bacon grease, filled with bacon jam, topped with whipped avocado cream and sprinkled with lemon zest and smoked salt, this reminded me of a mini taco salad of sorts.
As for the awards, the judges and the people’s choice were both extremely close.
The judges awarded:
Honorable Mention: Bacon Pixie Stix
Third Place: S’more Bacon Please
Second Place: Chicken Fried Bacon Bomb
First Place: Baco-Yaki
The People’s Choice:
Third Place: Potato Bacon Cheddar Soup with Sourdough Bread Bowls
Second Place: Lil’ Squealers
First Place: Chicken Fried Bacon Bomb
I guess it comes as no surprise that the man who has made a brand entirely based around bacon took top overall honors, but nonetheless it was well deserved.
The important thing to remember here, is that most of these chefs are just home cooks with a passion and a desire to experiment when they arrive home from their day jobs. Tech, art, sales - every one of these chefs put up some mighty fine food in an arena that was somewhat foreign. I, for one, was extremely impressed.
After congratulating Thomas on his award, I asked him if he had fun. He explained that competing [and winning] against professionals, amateurs, and those in between, was a blast!
Cooking is fun.
I used to think that there was a limit to bacon's potential - but the chefs today proved once again that there is always room for innovation and creativity (BACON PIXIE STIX?!). The same can be said for any type of cuisine, and it is those that push the boundaries of what food currently is in order to explore what food can be that keep us on our toes and excited about the adventure.
As for me, I may take a shot at entering as a contestant next year and complete the trifecta of possible roles at the Takedown. Either way, I've made some new friends, recognized some old faces from last year, and if they'll have me, I'll be back (bacon) in 2013.
Be sure to be on the lookout for more Takedowns in a city near you. Rumor has it that "Ice Cream and Hot Sauce" may find its way to the Bay Area soon. But you didn't hear that from me...