02.23.10

Stop the Bacon Insanity!

Bacon ice cream, bacon coffee...bacon cereal? Celebrity chef Tim Love on how crispy smoked pork has finally jumped the shark. Plus, VIEW OUR GALLERY of the craziest bacon dishes ever.

With its salty-smoky-sweet crispiness, bacon ranks up there with chocolate as a great populist ingredient. A piece of chocolate-covered bacon may, in fact, have been the greatest thing I've ever tasted.

Still, as both a fan of all things meat and a restaurateur, I have to speak truth to power: The bacon craze has gone too far.

To professional and amateur chefs alike, it has become more than just a potent tool for infusing fat and flavor. It has become a ubiquitous ingredient in everything from cocktails to crockpots, used by chefs a bit too liberally in favor of that big, familiar taste you've known since Mom first put it on your plate before school. Bacon coffee, bacon cereal, bacon ice cream—America, cut it out!

From a bacon candle to bacon ice cream, click below to see the 10 most ridiculous bacon dishes ever.

I've always been a dove hunting man. Here in Texas, people tend to prepare dove breast only one way. It's a very small piece of meat, it's very lean, and it takes a lot of technique to make the dish sing. But instead of cajoling all the beautiful flavor out of it, they take the breast, jam a jalapeno in it, and swaddle it in, well, you-know-what.

With any ingredient, no matter how versatile, it is the chef's job to temper it. Instead, because it's so popular right now, bacon serves as the quick fix to provide crowd-pleasing smoky fatty richness and flavor. And while this may be much simpler than starting a fire or jury-rigging a cold smoker, it's the same trick people have used since I was a kid. When I was growing up, you were never able to get a beef tenderloin without it being wrapped in bacon. That was how many cooks made sure people would like it.

More than any other food, bacon has been lifted by the comfort food trend because of that instant recognition. Picture a piece of bacon. Now, just try to convince me that the signature smoky aroma and fatty saltiness haven't already trapped every flavor receptor in your mouth and nose. Bacon is chock full of umami.

So when eaters see bacon on a menu, they know exactly what they're getting, just like the familiar reassurance of a slice of pizza or French fries. Plus, bacon's just never fancy, so no one feels intimidated ordering it. All of a sudden, you've got yourself a trend. Bacon has always been in every supermarket and everyone knows how to cook it. And everywhere they look, chefs and restaurants are telling them it's the must-use ingredient. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A lot of people are latching on to feel like they're part of a bigger food trend. But we should be moving on from the humble pig (pork belly, I'm talking about you, too) and elevating other animals. The culinary world is waiting for some gambler out there to take the next step. Right now, my menu has a lamb belly BLT because I think both lamb and goat are underappreciated and delicious. And, what about game birds (remember, I'm partial to doves)? There's so much wonderful experimentation going on for those brave enough to venture there. So many cuts of meat that may sound just as initially odd as pork belly, but can turn into the next big cooking trend coming from the right cutting board.

Bacon, you've always been there for us and will always be there, but it's high time we all stepped beyond the comfort zones of familiar trends and showcase something different.

Plus: Check out Hungry Beast, for more news on the latest restaurants, hot chefs, and tasty recipes.

Tim Love is the chef and owner of the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro and the Love Shack in Fort Worth, Texas, and been featured on television shows ranging from Today to Iron Chef America (where he defeated Morimoto in a chile battle).