Sky Full of Bacon

In this Sky Full of Bacon video produced for the Good Food Festival, I visit an organic farm in Michigan to see how they’ve made connections through the festival— and why farming matters, to them and to us. (13:44)

Chicago’s Good Food Festival, now in its 10th year, connects food producers with investors, advisers, sellers and customers. I visit Big Head Farm, an organic blueberry farm in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and talk to farmers Karen and Jody Warner about how the festival has helped them make connections and grow— and why they chose the life of a farmer in the first place. (13:44)

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Grub Street shut down its blogs in cities outside New York today; I learned about it this morning and, not surprisingly, had no more than about 20 minutes before Twitter blabbed it to everybody. I can’t speak for others but I wasn’t shocked that the day came that a New York-based publication shut down operations outside New York; I’ve been in enough ad agencies expanding and then shrinking to be unsurprised by that happening eventually. We’re in an age when things grow fast and die fast, you have to make that work for you, or go work at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles.

I am very gratified by, but also slightly uncomfortable about, the kind words of sympathy that have flowed in because I don’t feel like someone who lost a job, mainly because I have at least two others at any given moment. At most I’m merely underemployed again. (Not to discourage your kind words, keep ’em coming!) But I’ve long been the guy who worked to keep his own brand alive— Sky Full of Bacon came about initially because I figured it was too hard to stand out as a food writer named Mike or Michael in this town, and needed something more memorable— and developing and being known for a set of portable skills that were bigger than any given assignment (and reinforced each other). I am grateful to a year and a half and change at Grub Street and my editor Alan Sytsma for expanding my access to the restaurant scene immensely, giving me countless opportunities to devise my own opportunities without having to pitch them to anybody most of the time (easily the thing I’m worst at in this game, reading the minds of editors to figure out what they’ll want and haven’t assigned yet), and letting me do so many things just because they sounded cool to me, which by the way reminds me that I haven’t posted this video which ran at Grub Street yet:

Anyway, no hard feelings, at the very least the next Key Ingredient will appear in about ten days at the Reader, and I have no idea what I will do next with what I’ve learned and can do, no actually I have about 20 ideas at any given time but I have no idea which of them will pan out. But there is no danger of my disappearing, as long as there is self-promotional breath in my body.

And yes, really, thank you to everyone who emailed or tweeted kind words of support, for being readers then and friends now. For a decade now I have tried to cover food in a way that was personal, funny, thoughtful, and not just about grabbing bucks but about what food means to us on every level, and I will continue to do that, probably in several places at once, as usual.


Lots of busy things happening, but at Grub Street and the Reader, not here.

I interviewed the lovely Nigella Lawson.

I told the story of an old school Italian place and its dedicated owner.

I got nice words from Rick Bayless.

I’m big in Japan England: Sky Full of Bacon videos are running on a public affairs satellite/cable channel in the UK, and I’ve gotten several nice comments from viewers over there.

I tried to explain what Indonesian food is about.

I interviewed the charming Fabio Viviani:

I shot a cool bar 18 stories up:

And here are the Key Ingredients since the beginning of the year:

Matt Kirkley of L2O with warabi starch, making a fish ball out of a Japanese dessert:

I love when chefs get something totally plebeian: like celery for NoMI’s Ryan LaRoche:

Someone was bound to get durian eventually, and it was Lee Wolen of The Lobby:

Wolen gave another Asian fruit, buddha’s hand, to Gaetano Nardulli of Near in Barrington:

Noah Sandoval, who as you’ll see has already been in the background of a past KI video, with chestnut flour:

And for the first time, we unmistakably kill something on camera: lobster tamalley for underground chef Jake Bickelhaupt (Sous Rising):

For Sky Full of Bacon’s 20th episode, I take a trip to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands— and find the same issues there that farmers, chefs and diners face in the midwest, but with palm trees.

Eating locally, farm to table, ethnic food cultures— this time the subject matter of Sky Full of Bacon finds a new, tropical location. I’m invited to the St. Croix Food and Wine Experience in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but go beyond the fancy events in the resorts to see the whole picture of food on this small island (pop. 40,000). From beer-drinking pigs to a rainforest farm which sees farming in terms of how it affects both land and ocean, it’s a picture both familiar and exotic. (33:25)

Here’s the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience site.

Here’s ARTfarm on Facebook.

Here’s Jason Kessler, who’s in my video, writing at Food Republic about two of the places in the video, the market and Ridge to Reef Farm. The top photo in the market piece will look very familiar once you’ve seen the video.

One idea I had early on for a Sky Full of Bacon video was following a restaurant from beginning to opening— seeing the decisions that are made behind the scenes that shape the diner’s experience in often invisible ways. But I didn’t have the contacts to get in on the opening of a major restaurant from the beginning. Until I was at Grub Street Chicago, and I was approached about doing something about one of the biggest openings of the year, Grace, from former Alinea #2 Curtis Duffy, very early in the process. Hey, I have just the idea for how to cover that, I said.

And so in late March I met with Duffy and his architect in the gutted space to talk about how this blank canvas would become Duffy’s vision of a restaurant:

Construction is a long process, but it’s not the only thing happening in the development of a restaurant during those many months. In May I met with chef Duffy and his new manager/sommelier, Michael Muser, to talk about how you create a wine list for a restaurant that doesn’t exist yet:

By July they were starting to get the restaurant’s furnishings in, and so we talked plates, glasses, silverware, and how you shape the guest experience with all of them:

In September I returned to the space, built out but far from finished, to talk about how the restaurant was designed to facilitate a certain service flow that maximizes both efficiency and the gracefulness of the guest experience:

The restaurant was finally ready to open in December. I returned on their very first night of paying service, a week before the official opening, to conclude the story:

(To see the original posts that ran nationally at Grub Street announcing the videos, click on the months highlighted in the text above.)

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The fifth and final chapter of Finding Grace, my series about the creation of Curtis Duffy’s Grace, is here:

I was approached by Shin Thompson of the former Bonsoirée with an offer I couldn’t refuse: shoot 6 pop-up dinners by 6 chefs vying for the job of chef at a new restaurant in the former Bonsoirée space called Table, Donkey & Stick. The restaurant’s theme was “Alpine Inn” and each chef was given a fair amount of leeway to execute their vision of hearty, welcoming Alpine cuisine using, if possible, whole animal cooking.

It was like a homemade Top Chef! I also knew it would take over my life for a couple of weeks, but that’s okay. So here it is, 24 minutes of video shot and edited entirely by me within a couple of weeks:

How did it all turn out? Go here to find out.

Watch 4th-generation Italian grocer Jim Graziano wrestle with an 85-lb. parmigiano-reggiano cheese as he tells his family business’s story. (7:26)

The fourth chapter of Finding Grace, my series about the creation of Curtis Duffy’s Grace, is here:

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Former underground dinner chef Iliana Regan talks about foraging for her new restaurant, Elizabeth. (5:32)

Video produced for the Chicago Reader to go with Julia Thiel’s profile of Regan, which is here. If you want to see another movie about foraging, check out this past Sky Full of Bacon video.

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