Posted June 18, 2012

Chef Derek Simcik is Way Into Bacon

Eat + Drink

{The second in a series of blog posts exploring the passions of our chefs involved in our culinary series, Behind the Apron}

Chef Derek and Andre Vonbaconvitch Pluess, one of the founders of Chicago’s Baconfest

Chef Derek Simcik of Atwood Café in Chicago has a classic pastry background. He also loves bacon. He loves bacon so much, in fact, that he’s made it a mission to find creative ways to incorporate it into desserts. The unlikely – and entirely tasty – results have appeared on Atwood Café’s menu and have made him a winner at Chicago’s Baconfest, a foodie event where renowned chefs use the addictive pork product in wholly innovative ways.

We figured there was no better way to discover more about his love of bacon than to listen to him chew the fat. We caught up with Derek and he talked about everything from his Baconfest win to finding the ideal cut to making bacon pop rocks. (Yes, we said “bacon pop rocks.”)

Life is Suite: You’re known as a bacon king. How did you get into using this ingredient?

Derek Simcik: At my previous restaurant, Jackson 20 in Alexandria, Virginia, our mascot was a pig. I did a lot with pork – cured my own ham, made bacon. But I didn’t start using it in dessert until I came to Chicago in 2010.

LIS: Bacon might be an unexpected ingredient in dessert. Especially for those used to traditionally sweet treats.

DS: Yes. But among foodies, it’s almost become the norm. The combination of chocolate and bacon is classic now – the smoky fattiness of bacon goes so well with sweetness. It’s an easy taste to take a liking to. I’ve taken it a few steps beyond the expected, which has been really fun and has appealed to more adventurous dessert lovers.

LIS: Tell us about the creative desserts you made for Chicago’s Baconfest.

DS: For the first festival two years ago, I had just arrived in Chicago and my first offsite event was Baconfest. I saw the list of chefs – it was impressive – and I knew I had to make a splash and step up my game. So I tapped into my pastry background and did a frozen bacon Snickers bar paired with bacon cappuccino. It actually won first place. Some of the best chefs in Chicago were suddenly looking at me and saying, Who are you and where did you come from?

One of Chef Derek’s creations: maple-candied bacon

LIS: Did you then introduce that dish on Atwood Café’s menu?

DS: I started playing around with bacon in desserts more. I made a bourbon tobacco smoked ice cream to go with maple rum-candied bacon. It was an off-menu item we ran for the people that would come in after Baconfest and ask for something special. It was almost like we were one of those secret speakeasy bars.

LIS: The pressure was on when you went back for the second annual Baconfest the following year.

DS: I thought to myself, Now what do I do? I decided on bacon pecan cannoli with bacon fat mascarpone filling. I was also serving a black peppercorn cherry fruit rollup. I came in second to Paul Virant {of Vie and Perennial Virant}. I could definitely live with that! I took it easy after that, although I was approached by the Baconfest people and did a satellite dinner with five or six courses – all of them with bacon, of course.

LIS: And you recently went back to Baconfest for round three.

DS: This year, I had the idea to do Willy Wonka meets Baconfest. I did bacon pop rocks, bacon gushers and bacon pixie sticks.

LIS: Those sound like secret recipes.

DS: The pop rocks took months of testing. I made them with baking soda and used all kinds of cooking techniques, including dehydrating. It was like a science lab.

LIS: What is it about bacon that makes it so popular?

DS: Because … it’s bacon and it’s delicious. {laughs} And it’s a common ingredient. You can have bacon at almost every meal. With eggs in the morning, in a BLT sandwich at lunch, wrapped around a filet at night. It’s approachable. It’s not like adding foie gras or calves brain to a dessert. It’s something people know.

LIS: Give our readers the ultimate tip: What makes a good slab of bacon? What should we look for when we shop?

DS: It’s all about the fat ratio. You want a nice combination of fat and meat. Look for a marbleized appearance, like you would when shopping for a steak.

LIS: Then enjoy it at every meal.

DS: Within reason!

Enjoy Chef Derek Simcik’s innovative American fare at Atwood Café, 1 West Washington St., Chicago (312-368-1900 or Who knows – he just might have an off-menu bacon treat for you!


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