Above & Beyond Bacon with Chef Kevin Gillespie at Heaven on Seven

Bacon gets all the glory. Granted, it’s delicious, but there’s so much more to pork. Blasphemy! you say – I don’t believe you! Here to introduce you to a whole treasure-trove of porcine pleasures is Chef Kevin Gillespie.

The Atlanta Chef is the author of a new ode to the pig, Pure Pork Awesomeness: Totally Cookable Recipes from Around the World. “Like Bubba Gump and his shrimp, I have a million ways to cook pork because I love it so much,” he says in the introduction. This compendium of all things pork includes recipes as varied as Vietnamese Spareribs with Chile and Lemongrass and German-style Whole Roasted Pork Shank.

Those two dishes were recently featured in a dinner at Heaven On Seven, 111 N Wabash Ave, with Chef Gillespie. Heaven’s Chef Jimmy Bannos introduced the young chef, who’s three year’s younger than Bannos’ restaurant, to a full room of pork-lovers. The dinner was not only to introduce Gillespie’s new cookbook, but also to celebrate the restaurant’s 35 years in Chicago. It’s one of an occasional series of dinners they’ll be hosting with great chefs from all over the country.

The dinner began with bacon popcorn, which is simply popcorn popped in bacon grease and then tossed with bacon crumbles, salt, and pepper. I say “simply,” but it’s bacon. In popcorn. 

This was followed by a “Caesar salad on steroids,” a slow-smoked pork let filet with bitter greens, paired with an Abita Strawgator Shandy. The comparison to the well-known salad is apt, as the dressing is made with garlic, lemon olive oil, white anchovies, and shaved pecorino cheese.

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Our next course was, by a slim margin, the favorite dish of the evening. Wonton wrappers were filled with lemon ricotta, garlic, chives, and ham hocks and served in a ham broth, then topped with snipped chives and shredded ham. Chef used wonton wrappers for this Italian-style “tortellini” because they’re easier to find at the store than fresh made pasta. This was paired with Cajun Kool-Aid, which is a whole lotta danger in a glass.

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Our third course was those Vietnamese Spareribs. They were served in a bowl over rice with fresh limes. Delicious and not too spicy, and perfect paired with Heaven on Seven’s version of a sazerac.

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The final savory course went a completely different direction. The German-style Whole Roasted Pork Shank was a rich tower of pork flavored with caraway, garlic, and lager, served with a Buffalo Trace Manhattan. In his cookbook Gillespie says “invite some friends over, crack open some beers, and four grown men could eat on this for the better part of an hour.”

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Our final course of the evening ended where we began – with bacon. Dessert was a Banoffee Trifle with Candied Bacon, served with chicory iced coffee with Abita root beer whipped cream. This dessert has vanilla custard, fried bananas, toffee caramel, chocolate ganache, and candied bacon. Seriously. How could you go wrong? (Especially when served with ROOT BEER WHIPPED CREAM.)

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So yes, dinner did start and end with bacon, but there was so much more in the middle that showed the versatility of cooking with pig. All of these recipes are available in Chef Gillespie’s cookbook. I made the Lemon-Ricotta Tortellini with Ham Hock Broth and can verify that it is “Totally Cookable” to recreate the dish at home. I’ll share that experience (but not the dish, because it is all gone!) in another post.

Until then, you can pick up your own copy of Pure Pork Awesomeness and make these delicious recipes yourself! (You can even learn how to make your own bacon.)


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