Sometimes, all it takes is a man with a plan.
The man in this particular case is Chris Clarke, 24, of West Toledo. And the plan involves bacon.
For his family’s Easter get-together this year, Mr. Clarke made balsamic-glazed bruschetta topped with candied bacon. That may sound ambitious, but Mr. Clarke loves to cook and to experiment with different recipes. The dish was a hit with his family, but he didn’t think much about it.
“A couple of days later, my brother gave me a call,” Mr. Clarke said. “He asked me if I was still doing the bacon business. I questioned him and said, ‘What bacon business?’”
It turned out his brother had been so impressed by the candied bacon he told his friends about it. They had been so intrigued, they asked if they could buy some — several pounds’ worth, all told.
“I was pretty taken aback by that,” Mr. Clarke said. But in that moment, the plan was born.
Mr. Clarke briefly studied biochemical engineering, but the subject quickly bored him. His lifelong ambition has been to get into the restaurant business and find his own culinary niche. Opportunity knocked in the form of making bacon.
By day, he works as a waiter and bartender at Table Forty 4 in downtown Toledo. But whenever he gets the chance, he is curing, smoking, and cooking his own bacon. And this is the kicker: Once he has this homemade bacon, he either puts a candied glaze on it or drizzles it with chocolate.
Though he has only been doing this since Easter, he has already turned it into a business, albeit a small one. But he has plans to grow, to market his product, and to sell it in stores. He already has a name for a company, Everything Bacon, and is looking into working with a local institution to use its commercial kitchen.
At the moment, he and business partners Alex Carbetta and Ryan Prugar are working out of a kitchen in a house they rent just for this purpose. They buy pork bellies from House of Meats (he wanted to buy direct from local farmers, but the farmers, understandably, only wanted to sell him their whole hogs). Mr. Clarke trims the fat by hand. They cure it themselves with a sugar-and-salt cure for nine days rather than the traditional seven, because he prefers his bacon a little drier than most.
Because they don’t have a professional smoker, they smoke the meat in their oven, using whiskey-soaked chips of hickory. They then cut it to their preferred thickness, put it on a baking sheet, and lay another baking sheet on top of it to keep the bacon from curling up as it cooks. If it curls, Mr. Clarke explained, the sugar or chocolate will clump together in the pockets, yielding a taste that is more sweet than the sweet-and-salty mix he wants.
The candy glaze comes from a mixture of brown sugar, molasses, honey, and “a few other seasonings.” The chocolate is usually drizzled on top of the chocolate-covered variety, but the bacon can also be dipped in chocolate. Or, the artistically inclined Mr. Clarke can even draw designs with it, within the long and narrow constraints of the bacon. In one memorable case for a bridal shower, he decorated half with white chocolate wedding gowns and the other half with tuxedos made of dark and white chocolate.
Mr. Clarke is already thinking in terms of new ideas and new products, all of them using bacon. Recently, he made a batch of cupcakes with Guinness stout, chocolate, and bacon in the batter and a frosting of maple buttercream, all topped with a good-sized chunk of candied bacon.
“Bacon is blowing up all over the country,” he said, “and I want a piece of that slab.”
Mr. Clarke’s candied bacon and chocolate-covered bacon is available for $20 a pound, with discounts available for larger amounts. Orders can be made at 419-304-6410 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Daniel Neman at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.