They were making ice cream with liquid nitrogen last night at San Francisco's One Market, as the glamorous Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Handed parfait glasses piled high with heavenly, fluffily satiny white deliciousness as our fellow party-goers delved into sunchoke risotto, swirly meringues and so much more and a soft rain fell on the historic Ferry Building outside the massive windows, we made our way to the sundae-makings table. On it were caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, nuts, and... pork:
What would our ancestors think? In their primeval banana-split ecstasies, could they have envisioned an era in which bacon sundaes would be the new normal?
Having been served a lunch recently at which every course featured bacon, including dessert, I pondered the ubiquity of the salty pink stuff. It started a few years ago, wit the advent of the first bacon-flavored lip balm. Will this ubiquity last forever?
Staffan Terje, chef-owner of San Francisco's Perbacco, says it's here for good -- and that it might herald the decline of Western civilization.
"I love bacon," Terje told me when I asked him about the 21st-century bacon dominion. "I want to make that clear from the start. When bacon is used properly, it can be really good.
"But bacon has snuck its way into everything. People are trying to outdo each other with all the crazy stuff they can make with bacon. I don't know where this came from: It's something Americans in the US came up with.
"I don't think Canadians are doing silly stuff with Canadian bacon."
"When I first moved to the US from Sweden, one of my first great revelations was the BLT sandwich -- which is amazing. But bacon cookies are not. And bacon vodka is not.
"What are we really doing when we're making a martini taste like breakfast?"
Terje recoils "at the thought of kissing somebody who has just taken bacon-scented breath mints or sipped bacon coffee or bacon soda. Would any woman be attracted to a guy that smelled like bacon? And if there is such a woman, is that somebody I'd even like to meet?
"Bacon has its place," says the chef, who worked in a slaughterhouse during his youth and got some crucial early training from Swedish butchers. "But people have become obsessed with it. Guy Fieri is pushing it. For me, cooking is all about balance. But if you put bacon in anything, bacon is all you're going to taste.
"A lot of things that people are now putting bacon into, if you try the original it's usually really good" -- without the pink stuff. "If New England clam chowder is made right, you taste the clams. If you add bacon, it just tastes like smoky gravy. A couple strips of bacon on a burger can be delicious, but I want to taste the beef."
One scary sign of the times is "bacon" being made from other substances besides pork.
"Even if you're a vegetarian or keep kosher, you can't escape bacon. Someone will attack you with lamb bacon or veal bacon or soy bacon."
"I don't want it. I love bacon and I love chocolate too much to put them together."
Bacon-flavored ice cream?
"The bacon fat becomes waxy. When you're eating ice-cold bacon fat, it coats your mouth like candle wax.
"Believe me, I've participated in this bacon thing myself with the Cochon 555" -- a nationwide all-out pig-cooking expo. "In one way, it's good because it challenges chefs to be creative. But bacon cookies? Come on. Is that what we have to do to win?
"We have ourselves to blame for this silliness. Chefs are doing everything with bacon, and suddenly you've got a snowball rolling down the hill and nobody can stop it," Terje laments.
"It's like history repeating itself, like the final days of the Roman Empire: That's why it went down. There was a lot of excess, all the banquets and crazy orgies and exotic foods. There was just no end to it.
"We're like the Romans in that we need all these spectacles" -- such as Epic Meal Time's 500-strip, 109,000-calorie baconburger.
"It's not just the food itself. It's the mentality of it. We're going back there," he said.
But first ... another sundae.
Photographs by Kristan Lawson, used with permission.
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