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posted: 3/4/2014 5:45 AM

Cook of the Week: Buddies build culinary connections with bacon

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  • Todd Clement, left, and Ryan Cunningham show off their Sweet and Spicy Piggy Pearwich that earned them second place in their first Bacon Takedown in 2012.

      Todd Clement, left, and Ryan Cunningham show off their Sweet and Spicy Piggy Pearwich that earned them second place in their first Bacon Takedown in 2012.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Todd Clement bakes the bacon that will be used to make Sweet and Spicy Piggy Pearwich.

      Todd Clement bakes the bacon that will be used to make Sweet and Spicy Piggy Pearwich.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

By Abby Scalf
Daily Herald Correspondent

Bacon's delicious destiny extends beyond the breakfast table, as two suburban guys learned on the competition circuit.

"I never thought much beyond cooking with bacon beyond making some spicy bacon," said Todd Clement, of Woodstock. But then he heard about Hormel's Bacon Takedown amateur cooking competition and the wheels started turning.

Todd and friend Ryan Cunningham, of Algonquin, discovered just how versatile the salty meat can be while they worked up recipes for the contest.

The friends and their wives would gather often at each other's home for dinner, but working on the bacon project was the first time the two tested their creativity side-by-side in the kitchen.

For their first effort, Todd said he wanted their dish to build off a spicy candied bacon that a friend shared with him. They decided to create a sandwich they named the Sweet and Spicy Piggy Pearwich. Using bacon as the bread, they filled the sandwich with a slice of pear and to add a creamy component combined cream cheese and maple syrup.

The pair recruited their friends to serve as guinea pigs before coming up with their final entry.

"A couple friends I've mentioned the possibility of coming over and trying a few things and they say 'Score. Done. When? When?'" Ryan said.

Todd said his wife, Jennifer, also has been supportive of the process although she may have spoken up when there was too much grease or smoke in the kitchen.

"It's nice that we could open the windows and air the place out," he said. "I was directed multiple times that I need to go out and buy new pans and cooling racks because the bacon won't come off it." After making 200 to 250 servings, Todd said they were pleased with the Piggy Pearwich and hoped others would like it.

"As the competition was going, we started seeing people coming back and talking to us and taking seconds and thirds," Todd said. "People were saying this is their favorite dish and it was incredible. We started thinking we may have a chance." Competing among 20 entries in 2012, the pair took second place by the judges. The guys immediately knew they had to enter again the following year.

For the 2013 competition held last September, they created Great Balls of Bacon, a meatball made up of ground bacon as well as honey, dates and red pepper flakes to give a kick. The meatballs garnered the pair third place.

"It's the same concept in the flavor components but a completely different dish," Ryan said.

After all the experimenting, Todd said he still is not tired of eating the salty treat. Ryan says that is not even possible.

But Todd adds with a laugh, "Do I think I may have taken a year or so off my life, that is possible." Todd said the process has opened his eyes to other ways to use bacon such as adding it to pasta or a salty contrast to chocolate. And, he said he is more willing to experiment with other much healthier ingredients that he may have underutilized in the past.

"I'm trying to experiment more with using fruit," he said. "I've been using diced apples to mix with pork or making an apple slaw to top a burger. I've never cooked with carrots except throwing them into a stew but I'd also like to work more with root vegetables."

Ryan also enjoys pushing the boundaries in his kitchen. While making fresh pasta and risotto are favorites, he also is exploring Indian and Thai cuisines. And he's encouraging his two daughters, ages 7 and 5, to try new foods.

The two are now looking to expand their competition experience.

Todd added, "I don't want to end up competing against professional chefs. I'm not that level yet."

Yet they won't forget where they started.

"For us, we enjoyed the fun of (the Bacon Takedown) and we'll continue to do that," Ryan said, adding "We'll for sure be back to the bacon competition a third time."

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