Comfort food seems simple enough to define. It's food that delivers comfort. Of course that sounds like a definition improvised by a distracted middle school student. How about, comfort food is food that feels like home. That's a little closer.

The more we send the concept of comfort food through our minds, the more elusive its meaning becomes. Striking an agreed upon definition may be an ongoing discussion, but viewing comfort food as ultimately personal and emotional provides a solid foundation for further dialogue.

Periodically, Smithfield Foods engages in sessions called Smithfield Innovation Labs, in which chefs are invited to experiment with the company's products in order to generate innovative approaches for product application. In late September, the company held such an event in Chicago, the theme of which was comfort food.

Smithfield brought five chefs to a kitchen in Chicago's famed Merchandise Mart to develop and execute recipes based on the concept of comfort food.

The following chefs were in attendance:

• Brian West - San Antonio, former CIA instructor, caterer
• Debbie Gold - Chicago, James Beard Award winner, executive chef at Tied House
• John Chiakulas - Chicago, Lettuce Entertain You corporate chef, chef partner of Aba, Antico Posto, Beatrix
• Andrew Spielberg - Hudson, N.Y., CIA graduate, owner of Gracie's Luncheonette
• RJ Cooper - Nashville, James Beard Award winner, chef/owner of Saint Stephen

Each chef had the opportunity to work with Smithfield foodservice products, including Smithfield’s Curly’s brand (pulled chicken, pulled pork and pulled beef) and Eckrich smoked sausage. In the end, the chef's each generated several recipes that stretched the boundaries of comfort foods. 

Some of those recipes included:

• Bacon Waffles with Maple Sausage Gravy (using Farmland bacon and breakfast sausage)
• Baked Stuffed Shells with Eckrich Smoked Sausage
• Korean Brisket Tacos with Curly's Brisket
• Pot Roast Shawarma Pita with Eckrich Pot Roast
• Reuben Egg Roll with Curly's Corned Beef
• Pepperoni Breakfast Pizza (using Margherita pepperoni)

Comfort foods remain difficult to honestly define. Suffice it to say, we each claim comfort food in a different way. The foods that bring us comfort are knotted up with memory, childhood and family. The details may vary, but one thing is true for everyone: comfort foods put us at ease.