I went to a preview last week for Chipotle's Cultivate Festival, coming to Lincoln Park this Saturday with food, music, and sustainability education exhibits and activities. Why go to a commercialized Big Food event like this? Well, because it was at Blackbird, for one, with Cosmo Goss of Publican Quality Meats helping make the presentation to a food-media crowd; his boss Paul Kahan will be one of the chefs doing chef demos, along with Graham Elliot, Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia, Curtis Duffy of Grace, and others.
It's too easy to dismiss anything coming from a big business—let alone one that used to be owned by McDonald's—as greenwashing. A couple of years ago at the Chicago Food Film Festival, Chipotle got jeers as a sponsor (despite, or maybe because of, this slick and quite moving visual representation of what their philosophy is).
But obviously some chefs we all take seriously take Chipotle seriously, and there's no question that it's growing the market for better, more local food as fast as its supply chain can take on new suppliers—Chipotle's role in the expansion of Niman Ranch is only the most obvious evidence of that. If sustainability is going to go mainstream, it will be because the power of big business takes it mainstream and buys a lot more than a few whole animals from a few farmers like PQM can. That, at least, is the message Chipotle seeks to communicate by putting on the festival—which drew about 30,000 people last year—for the third year in a row. You can go and judge for yourself, and maybe get a taste of Blackbird's pork tonnato with pickled green peaches, Saturday.
"Cultivate" was Chipotle's gentle, nonthreatening term; but a local production company announced something much bolder with Food Revolution Chicago, an online series that aimed to cover the "revolution" "from farm-to-table initiatives to new techniques, themes and ventures resulting in unique experiences that aren't always repeatable but are certainly memorable." That's a little vague, but the venture gained some credibility from the participation as hosts of sustainability-minded chefs Rick Gresh (David Burke's Primehouse) and Cleetus Friedman (City Provisions, the Fountainhead), which suggested this wasn't going to be some "Gee whiz, isn't Chicago cool!" show with a host with a lot of hair, but one reflecting the insights of working chefs who know their stuff.
That was in April; the announcement followed that the show would run on NBCChicago.com, but to judge by Twitter, it didn't actually start shooting until just a few weeks ago. And this week comes the announcement . . . that Gresh and Friedman are out. The new host, one Megan Weinerman, certainly has ample hair among her other qualifications, which are . . . oh: "She doesn't cook, bake, brew or grow anything herself—she has a hard enough time using a can opener," as the press release chirps. We can't wait for the episode in which she accidentally puts soap flakes instead of corn flakes into the mixer and fills the whole set with bubbles!
Seeking more info on Facebook, we find that the vision of food revolution in Chicago now includes posing with Billy Dec, which should really set Food Revolution Chicago apart from other local network food television. Producer David Greiner says the personnel changes were because "we just couldn't get the business end to align for everyone," but Friedman admits to what's perfectly obvious, that there were "conflicts . . . with the producer" over the direction.
Maybe it will all turn out interesting and quirky and even a tiny bit revolutionary, but at the moment it looks like aligning with a major media outlet meant becoming just like what's already on such outlets, and one wonders why it wouldn't have been better to try to develop the sponsorship needed to stay independent (we hear people with video series about food have done such things). Anyway, you can see if anything resembling a food revolution gets televised later this month at NBCChicago.com.