For the legions of Chicago bacon-lovers, Baconfest has become one of the city’s most glorious rites of spring, a weekend-long bacchanal of smoked pork belly in all its multifarious forms, limited only by the imaginations of the local chefs who take on the awesome responsibility of producing small plates for the thousands of guests who stream through the UIC Forum.
But is Baconfest founder Seth Zurer content? Can a man live on just one favorite food alone? The answer to both these questions is no, not when there are so many other glorious foods in the world. And so, on Saturday, October 15, he will bring us . . . Dumpling Fest!
Why dumplings? Why not? Zurer has been a fan since his earliest days of sampling dim sum. “There are so many different dumplings around the world,” he says. “They all share a morphology, but they reflect different global cultures.” Like most of us, Zurer is susceptible to food trends and spent the past few years perfecting his soup dumpling-eating technique, but recently he’s returned to his roots, the shrimp wonton in soup. “It has a fine, delicate skin,” he says, “and rich, peppery broth. But others may feel the same about the pierogi, the empanada, the kreplach. Or whatever the singular of kreplach is. Kreple?”
Dumpling Fest will embrace them all. After eight years of Baconfest, during which the festival has raised $350,000 for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Zurer has built up a great deal of goodwill in the restaurant community. “Chefs are excited about dumplings,” Zurer explains. “It’s fun, and it’s a marketing opportunity and a chance to connect with other folks.” DJRC will provide the entertainment: old-school hip-hop, fitting the theme Wrapper’s Delight. “It’s a pretty splendid pun,” Zurer acknowledges. “I’m not going to say it’s the number one reason we chose the theme, but I’m not going to say it’s not.” (His hope and dream for some future year is that Questlove and David Chang will engage in a rap battle onstage.)
Fourteen chefs have tentatively agreed to be part of the inaugural Dumpling Fest and compete for the coveted Dumpling D’Or, though, given the unpredictability of the restaurant business, Zurer says, the final roster may change. Niman Ranch will provide a protein allowance for each chef so he or she won’t have to invest in meat out-of-pocket. The final menu will be announced at the beginning of October, but Cameron Grant of Animale and Osteria Langhe has already revealed his contribution: tortelloni stuffed with pork and foie gras, topped with bottarga, lemon zest, and pork cracklings. “It’s delicious,” Zurer promises.
Since Dumpling Fest is smaller than Baconfest, there is less possibility of overeating, but Zurer offers these words of wisdom: “As with all pleasures, one takes a risk of immoderate behavior. On this occasion, embrace the immoderation.”
Dumpling Fest, Sat 10/15, noon-3 PM, Ace Bounce, 230 N. Clark, 773-209-9543, dumplingfest.com, $50.