Camp Bacon Gives Midwest A Slice of Culinary Trend

The idea started as a pipe dream. While writing a comprehensive book about the history of bacon, Ari Weinzweig envisioned a summit of the country’s foremost bacon experts and luminaries.

“I don’t write fiction,” said Weinzweig, co-owner of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Zingerman’s.

So he only had one choice – turn the pipe dream into a pork reality. From June 30 to July 3, Zingerman’s will host the second annual Camp Bacon, a four-day bacon conference in Ann Arbor that includes seminars on bacon history, the creations of two James Beard award-winning chefs, a benefit concert at The Ark and, of course, lots of good eats.

Zingerman’s is already known throughout the Midwest, and among foodies worldwide, for its entrepreneurial spirit. In nearly 30 years, it has grown from the original deli started by a handful of people to a variety of businesses. Alex Young, executive chef at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, was named winner of the James Beard Award this year for Best Chef: Great Lakes.

The conference, Weinzweig envisions, will help solidify Zingerman’s establish its position at the forefront of the nationwide bacon craze. He is doing so, in part, by emphasizing bacon’s Southeast Michigan roots.

Over a century ago, Ann Arbor was a crossroads for drovers herding pigs to regional markets. In the 1950s, R&B artist Andre Williams recorded his hit “Bacon Fat” at Fortune Records in Detroit. The song rose to No. 9 on the Billboard charts in 1957.

Williams, now 76, will be one of the Camp Bacon headliners. He’ll play a benefit performance at The Ark on Friday, July 1. Festivities also include a dinner from another James Beard award-winner, Andrea Reusing, a discussion with food author and authority John T. Edge and more.

“We’ll have bacon makers coming to talk, and poets reading about bacon and classes about curing your own bacon,” Weinzweig said. Camp Bacon will even hold the first bacon-inspired poetry reading in Ojibwe.

While much of the current bacon craze centers around devouring as much bacon as possible in a single sitting, Weinzweig reminds prospective campers the goal of the upcoming baconfest is to not only eat a lot, but also an opportunity to explore the nuanced history of the food.

“We wanted a more intellectual and fun experience,” he said. “Trends come and trends go, but really for me, we’re not focused on the trend. We’re focused on the traditional food. … We’re all about full-flavored traditional food, and bacon certainly fits in there.”

The four-day camp will benefit Southern Foodways Alliance, a member-supported organization led by Edge that produces anthologies of food writing and cook books, and documents the culinary history of the South.

The four-day bacon celebration may be one of a kind, but Zingerman’s isn’t the only regional restaurant exploring bacon.

Our partner station WBEZ recently shared a few of the culinary secrets behind the chocolate-covered bacon waffles, sprinkled with bacon dust at Kanela Breakfast Club in Chicago. Check it out.

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