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Challenging Elements: Bacon


When The Empire Restaurant opened in Louisville a little less than a year ago, the sleepy bedroom community was lucky to receive a chef with accolades fit for a trendy urban center. The James Beard Foundation nominated chef and co-owner Jim Cohen as the Best Chef in the Southwest in 1991. Eight years earlier, Julia Child sang his praises.

Because of his prowess in the kitchen and approachable take on gourmet (think comfort food with an elegant twist), The Empire has been a favorite since opening. Seeing that dishes such as mac and cheese, a burger and jumbo hotdog share the menu with more gourmet offerings like a chili citrus pork chop, we wanted to see what Cohen would do with bacon.

Bacon is as versatile as it is tasty, fitting into breakfast, lunch and dinner menus with ease. It can be gourmet or paired simply with eggs. It’s a favorite of all carnivores.
The day after presenting Cohen with bacon, we returned, eagerly anticipating his dish. He treated us to Bacon and Scallops. Perhaps we were expecting a little more in the creativity department from a chef with such accolades. But what his dish lacks in surprise is made up for in taste. We’re always a sucker for bacon and scallops, and in this particular case, Cohen’s version is about as good as it gets unless your dining in a tiny hamlet on the Maine coastline.

Cohen’s take excels for a simple reason: the ingredients. He uses two types of bacon (a Wisconsin Smoked Applewood and an Italian-style Guaniciale), cuts them into generous chunks and sears them. The two bacons serve as a yin and yang, so to speak. The Guaniciale, an unsmoked version from a pig’s cheek, balances the more common version of bacon.

The diver scallops are from Maine, huge and seared perfectly. Cohen uses the leftover bacon grease to cook onions, cauliflower, oyster mushrooms, thyme and a bay leaf before tossing them all with the bacon and scallops. The flavors meld perfectly in this simple dish, proving once again that bacon can pretty much make any dish better by simple inclusion.

Taste the Bacon and Scallops for yourself now through Jan. 31 at The Empire Restaurant, 816 Main St., Louisville, call 303.665.2521.

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