New Work: Cincinnati Visitor Guide 2017

So, the assignment was to write about 5 iconic dishes from across Greater Cincinnati. Not fancy food, necessarily. Not things we’re 100% known for, like goetta or chili or Graeter’s ice cream. But dishes that if you’re a newcomer to the city, and you’re hopping around to the city’s distinctive neighborhoods, that you’d most definitely not want to miss.

Like a Zip Burger. This family-friendly little joint in my neighborhood dishes up arguably Cincinnati’s finest burger: a super high-quality beef patty ground to order, cooked on a flat-top and served on a soft bakery bun.

Hard work, right? I know.

Check out my profile of 5 Hot Dishes in Cincinnati’s booming food scene, part of the 2017 Cincinnati USA Visitor Guide.

New work: Christ Hospital wellness site.

My food writing work hits the sweet spot when the subject intersects at healthy and local. So my new collaboration with The Christ Hospital and agency Curiosity Advertising is right in my kitchen, so to speak.

We’re working together to spotlight local food — producers, farmers’ markets, seasonal flavors — and encouraging the Christ Hospital community to cook and eat healthful foods. In addition to a new series of recipe videos — SUPER FUN! — I am writing online content around healthy cooking and eating. My subjects so far include a feature on local winter farmers’ markets, strategies for stocking your pantry to make home cooking easier, and ‘locavore’ New Years Eve party ideas. Take a look at some of the work:

New Work: recipe videos.

I’ve just launched a cool new collaboration with the creative team from Curiosity Advertising and their client, The Christ Hospital. We’re working to develop friendly, approachable stories and videos that encourage people in the Greater Cincinnati area to cook healthfully, love local food and pursue their wellness goals.

First up: a video demonstrating how to make an easy recipe for roasted fall vegetables. Click the image below to see the video!

easy-roasted-vegetables

 

New work: Cincinnati Enquirer food section.

Thanks to a dedicated new section editor, the Wednesday food section of the Cincinnati Enquirer has been resurrected. Restaurant reviewer and food writer Polly Campbell and editor Amy Wilson are breathing new — and more important, local — life into this key lifestyle section. I’m so excited to be contributing ongoing articles to the section; features so far have covered how to make homemade butter, salad dressing 101, and a roundup of what’s in season locally in spring. Check out some of my recent columns (front pagers, no less)!

Cincinnati Enquirer food section

New work: Cincinnati Visitors Guide.

The Spring/Summer 2016 edition of the Cincinnati USA Official Visitors Guide shines a much-deserved spotlight on the city’s remarkable (and growing!) dining scene. For this feature package, I interviewed 5 leaders in dining, brewing and drinking around town. And the section included short stories on various aspects of local food, from connecting the dots between farm and table to Cincinnati’s brewing heritage, which dates to the 1800s. Check it out!

CincinnatiOVG1CincinnatiOVG2CincinnatiOVG3

New work: Edible Ohio Valley Spring issue.

This issue of Edible Ohio Valley magazine celebrates the ways that food can bring people together, lift folks up and make the world a little bit better.

Plus, isn’t the cover gorgeous?

Spring EOV coverFind this issue at your favorite Ohio Valley food purveyors, including the fabulous Dorothy Lane Market and Findlay Market, plus bookstores like Joseph-Beth.

Let’s make work a nicer place.

I’m just back from three days at HOW Design Live — the premier event for folks in the creative professions (graphic and web design, advertising, marcomm and related fields). HOW remains close to my heart, since I spent many years managing the brand and helping to host the conference. (This year, I developed a content strategy, helped with a big chunk of writing and covered the event live on social media … big fun!)

Unexpectedly — and perhaps unintentionally — a prominent theme pulsed through the event, linking many of they keynote presentations. It was a theme of kindness. Simon Sinek talked about it. So did Tina Roth Eisenberg and Tom Peters. Brené Brown touched on it, too.

This event wasn’t JUST about the work — it was about being nice to each other at work. And people responded. Everyone I talked to had picked up on it. It was this sort of primal energy that fed the entire crowd.

Why?

As Simon Sinek pointed out, workplaces large and small have lost their way. Profits come before people. Workers are laid off without conscience, and the rest of the team are pressured to pick up the slack. The pace of work is inhumane. Technology is beyond disruptive; it’s poisonous. When did it become OK for managers to email employees on weekends and expect them to respond? When did the pace of work pick up such that people can’t even breathe, let alone connect with colleagues and create really incredible new ideas? Yes, companies exist to create profit — and in doing so create jobs and build communities — but so much of this profit focus is incredibly short term, and it’s destroying people.

Why do we think the independent workforce is booming now? People are getting off the freakin’ treadmill.

What do we do about this? Five keywords emerged at HOW Design Live, words that might point to a better path:

Trust. This is a big one. Companies don’t trust their employees to make smart decisions, to take ownership of their work, to fall and learn from mistakes. Employees don’t trust that companies have people (themselves, or their customers) as their primary focus. Trust isn’t an asset on a resume or a function on a job description. It’s earned. Managers earn trust by digging into the trenches, working alongside their teams, telling them, “I have your back” and then living those words. Employees earn trust by recognizing what needs to be done and stepping up, rising to challenges, being honest when they’re confused or when they make mistakes.

Truth. This goes hand in hand with trust, doesn’t it? In politically charged workplaces, it’s impossible to have honest conversations. People say one thing and do another, throw each other under the bus. Brené Brown talked about how we have to own our flaws, be honest about our failures — or others will use those things to define us. We have to control our own stories.

Try. I enjoyed hearing Angie Myung and Ted Vadakan, the founders of Poketo, talk about the by-the-seat-of-their-pants startup story. They moved in with Ted’s parents, picked and packed orders themselves, made some bad decisions about inventory. They just gave it a whirl, and now they have an influential brand that brings art into people’s everyday lives. They tried.

Treat. As in, treat people kindly. Why are there so many assholes? Where is it written that if you’re unsure about yourself or your capabilities you get to mask that by being a bully? One great piece of advice from Sinek: When someone asks for a minute of your time, close the laptop and put your phone in a drawer. Disconnect from technology — entirely — and give them your full attention. Attention, he said, is the purest form of generosity.

Thanks. Tom Peters gave an enjoyably curmudgeonly rant that wandered all over the map. But he ended with the two most important words in business: Thank you. Thank you speaks truthfully and builds trust. We don’t say ‘thank you’ enough.

So, let’s all commit to this, shall we: Say thanks every day (every hour?). Try stuff. Be nice. Be honest and authentic. Support each other to build trust. Put the phones away and just talk.

I’m in.

New work: City Eats guide for Cincinnati Magazine.

I love writing stories about creative people in both food and design. This spring, I contributed a sweeping, 10-segment feature package to Cincinnati Magazine’s annual City Guide.

The project included telling readers—primarily, people who are new to or considering a move to Cincinnati—about some of the chefs, bars and restaurants that are bringing excellent food and drink to the city’s neighborhoods. In my mind, there’s no better way to get to know a place than by experiencing it through food. This assignment brought me to far corners of the city that I don’t often visit and introduced me to the city’s most awesome chefs.

New work: Chef Michael Paley profile for Edible Ohio Valley.

Metropole is the most-anticipated restaurant debut in Cincinnati for quite awhile. I finally managed to have dinner there recently, and it was sublime. Chef Michael Paley does wonders with the freshest of ingredients prepared in the simplest of ways.

You know how difficult it is to do simple, right? If you’re a designer, you know that stripping away elements until you have the perfectly balanced composition requires discipline and finesse. As a writer, I can tell you it’s vastly easier to write 1,200 words on a topic than it is to write 200.

When I interviewed Chef Paley, he told me: “What keeps me up at night is that this stuff is way too simple. … There’s a lot of pre-work that goes into [our dishes]. I’ve sourced this really great vinegar, I’ve been through three different farmers for lettuce, we’ve got these awesome radishes that are sliced perfectly thin and even. But in the end, after all that prior work—that the diner doesn’t know about— you have a salad with three components. And you really want to make sure you’re doing that right.”

In a new profile for Edible Ohio Valley, “The New Guy,” I write about how Metropole and Chef Paley are doing simple—and awe-inspiring—things with local and seasonal ingredients in Cincinnati.

See the Winter issue of Edible Ohio Valley magazine and read the article on Metropole and Chef Paley.

Metropole’s open kitchen adds to the experience; service counters throughout the space top out at waist level to provide patrons an unrestricted view of the action. Chef Michael Paley likes the synergy and connectedness between the dining room and kitchen. And then there’s the massive brick hearth with fire a-blazing at the back of the room: “You see the fire, hear it cracking, you hear the sounds of the kitchen,” he says.

 

The fireplace is the heart of both the environment and the menu. It, too, represents a blend of old and new: a throwback technique that echoes home cooking circa 1850 and a culinary style that’s part of the city’s current food scene (think: wood-fired breads and pizzas).

 

Paley’s interest in open-flame cooking isn’t new, but it’s in full expression at Metropole. He became interested in the method thanks to the wood-fired oven at Garage Bar, the Louisville hot spot he still owns. “I really like the challenge of bringing this ancient cooking method into a modern restaurant kitchen,” he says.

 

In late morning one weekday in December, six whole chickens were suspended by strings from two wrought-iron cranes mounted above a friendly blaze; over three hours they would rotate slowly, depositing their juices into a hotel pan below filled with aromatic vegetables, which would be turned into sauce for serving. Paley offered a tour of the fireplace, pointing out the hand-forged iron fire cage and swinging cranes, crafted by Kentucky blacksmith Craig Kaviar. To one side, a heavy iron plancha, kind of a footed griddle, sat awaiting a sweep of embers underneath to heat it. On the other side of the cage, chefs can assemble a grill that’s also fired by the hot embers. The brick fireplace is “can be arranged as needed, like an arena gets configured for concerts or basketball games,” Paley says.

 

“We can run a menu off something that doesn’t need gas or electricity,” Paley continues. And he does, or nearly so: whole onions, charred and caramelized in the hot ashes, top a seasonal salad of fresh garbanzo beans and creamy burrata cheese; oysters are hearth-baked; slices of rich foie gras take a turn on the plancha, as does a savory poached pear half served on a salad of roasted beets.

A conversation about local food.

I recently had the unbelievable good fortune of interviewing Paul Willis, live onstage (or rather, on a picnic table).

Paul, the founder of Niman Ranch Pork Co., was the featured speaker at the community pig roast that kicked off the Ohio Valley Greenmarket. This wonderful first-time event celebrated local food and sustainable living, and was sponsored by Edible Ohio Valley magazine (my delightful client), the Hamilton County Park District and Hamilton County Master Gardeners (of which I’m a member). With about 125 people in attendance, Paul and I had a conversation about the present and future of sustainable food.

Paul is an inspiration to anyone who’s interested in eating whole, healthful, high-quality food that’s produced in an ethical and sustainable way. A third-generation Iowa hog farmer, Paul raises animals the way his family’s always done it: outdoors, in a way that lets the pigs be, well, pigs. No less an authority than Temple Grandin has approved of Paul’s practices. Niman Ranch Pork Co., a network of more than 650 family farms, supplies Chipotle locations around the country and many fine restaurants; you’ll also find their products at stores like Whole Foods.

I wanted to share a few highlights of our conversation:

  • People often talk about local food in absolutes—as in, setting a geographical boundary (like, 50 miles) for local. In fact, Paul says, every farmer is local somewhere.
  • Scale is important in farming. Just as there’s too big—as in, big agribusiness—there’s also too small. Paul talked about the efficiencies that mid-sized food producers can realize: It’s more environmentally friendly (and economical) to ship a whole truckload of pork from Iowa to California than it is for him to transport a single pig from his farm to his processor.
  • We as consumers need to be informed and take responsibility for our purchases. “Get to know where your food comes from.”
  • Want to make a difference in our food system? “Be a farmer. Plant a tomato. Every little bit counts,” Paul said.

Dinner that night was fantastic: Napoleon Ridge Farm provided the pig; the folks at Savor (part of the Relish Group) did all the cooking using produce from Carriage House Farm and other growers. OYO served up a delicious grown-up stone fruit-vodka lemonade. Great Crescent beers were on ice.

Under a picnic shelter at Cincinnati’s Winton Woods park, over a meal of local food, in the company of new friends, under a nearly full moon, it was a remarkable evening. I’m so glad I was part of it.

photos © Bill Magness