Food Informants is a week-in-the-life series profiling fascinating people in the food world. We hope it will give you a first-hand look at the many different corners of the food industry. Know someone who would make a great Food Informant? Tell us why.
John T. Edge writes a monthly column, "United Tastes," for the New York Times. He is a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and a longtime columnist for the Oxford American. His magazine and newspaper work has been featured in eight editions of the Best Food Writing compilation. He has been nominated for five James Beard Foundation Awards, including two M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Awards. Edge holds a master’s degree in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. He is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South.
Edge just finished a new project, a cookbook and travelogue that catalogues modern American street and truck food. That book will publish in the spring of 2012. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his son, Jess, and his wife, Blair Hobbs, teacher, and painter. Check out his website here.
Read John T. Edge's diary below to learn about cement pickles, pig wings and more.
Thursday, November 17: Oxford, Ms. to Bluffton, Sc.
7:20am: Breakfast of four mini freezer biscuits, stuffed with sausage, topped with cheddar, eaten from a crumpled pouch of tin foil while driving north to Memphis airport.
11:45am: Colleague on plane, reading the book "Beautiful Swimmers," says, when asked how she likes the book, "I'm learning how to sex a crab."
1:30pm: As pilot banks plane hard and we land with a thud in Savannah, Ga., the guy behind me coughs into what will become my bald spot.
3:00pm: Munching from a paper bag of Wendy's sea salt fries, we pull into Palmetto Bluff for annual Music to Your Mouth weekend.
3:10pm: Impossibly beautiful row of live oaks along entrance to PB begs the question: Do they bring in extra Spanish moss and hang it from the boughs when guests aren't looking?
7:15pm: At dinner cooked by Chris Hastings (Hot & Hot Fish Club) and Mike Lata (FIG) dude from Chateau Beauscatel trills his r's and boasts of 13 different grapes in his red. I drink along.
Friday, November 18: Bluffton, Sc.
9:45am: MTYM continues. Breakfast by the fire pit with pitmasters Rodney Scott (Scott's BBQ) and Nick Pihakis (Jim 'N Nick's BBQ) as they stoke hogs with hot coals. Bloody Marys hit the mark.
All photos: Bonjwing Lee
10:00am: During cooking demo with Jeremiah Langhorne of McCrady's Restaurant, he cooks laurel-aged Anson Mills rice that blows my mind and palate. He cracks open a house-cured two-year-old ham, too. Asked about benne plants, he says they look like "okra plants that have grown amok."
1:15pm: Waiting for lunch, pit side with Rodney and Nick, as "Shake Your Booty" blasts on the boom box, we sit, water to our backs, talking rice cooking technique.
2:30pm: Trey Dutton of Palmetto Bluff from comes by the pit with his Grandma's “cement pickles.” Firm, like concrete, they taste like something other than concrete. Crazy great actually.
5:35pm: MTYM shows two Southern Foodways Alliance films, including the Joe York-directed "Ride that Pig to Glory." In discussion afterword, pig farmer Emile DeFeice, subject of film, segues into talk of porcine sex and says, "Pigs like to get their freak on."
9pm: From the bar, I drink my fill of Hirsch Vineyards pinot noir with a kitty cat on label. From the buffet, I snag grouper tacos with green tomato relish.
12am: Late night drinks. Fernet Branca in a shot glass. Then grower Champagne. Then moonshine from a jar. The usual progression.
Saturday, November 19: Bluffton, Sc.
10:45am: MTYM continues. Fat and Juicy brand bloody Mary. Guy who makes the stuff pushes one on me. I am a push-over.
11:00am: Billy Reid has a pop up store, set up on the tailgate of a pickup. Please tell my wife, Blair, that I covet that corduroy green hunter's jacket.
3:00pm: After drinking a beautiful Chardonnay from Lioco and eating three helpings of meringue-crowned banana pudding from Bill Smith (Crook's Corner) I head for a nap.
3:20pm: Nap averted. On the way back to my house, I come upon a crazed bunch of wine makers and sommeliers, including Jasmine Hirsch (Hirsch) and Rajat Parr (RN74). They are sabering the tops from magnums of Champagne and eating boiled peanuts.
4:00pm: Between bites of boiled peanuts I meet Mike the fishermen. He calls chefs who are not willing to take chances "menu stricken." Brilliant. Mike also tells me that amberjack have parasite worms. I ask, Can we eat the worms?
9:00pm: We board trolleys, bound for a castaway encampment, where Trey Dutton -- the fellow with those cement pickles -- is shoveling oysters onto a flattop that swivels, on a truck hitch, over a roaring wood fire. Steamed beneath a wet burlap bag, each batch takes a minute or so.
10:35pm: In conversation, Mike Lata tells that, on a recent road trip, he listened to a book-on-tape of "Lolita," read by Jeremy Irons. Smart guy. Not sure what to do with that info.
Sunday, November 20: Bluffton, Sc. to Oxford, Ms.
11:15am: On the road home, a small victory: the Delta A concourse Crown Room in Atlanta has Byrd's cheese straws, made in Savannah, in big jar on bar. Beats the hell out of the Kibbles and Bits at most airport lounges
1:35pm: Try to use ATM card. Declined. As if the bank knows I am hungover and is working in complement with the little demon in my head who is, right this very moment, attacking my cranium with a ball peen hammer.
3:20pm: Arrive back home in Oxford, to find my bank account overdrawn, and our home wireless network down. I restart the computer, transfer funds, claim the mantle of hero.
4:30pm: Jess, my son, and I throw the football. He runs tight patterns. I overthrow every time. He forgives me.
6:30pm: Blair makes white chili for dinner. She goes heavy on the cumin, the way I like it. We toast some of the Bosnian bread she’s been baking lately. (When I wrote a piece on Bosnians in St. Louis for my United Tastes column in the New York Times, Blair developed the recipe.)
Monday, November 21: Oxford, Ms. to Greenwood, Ms.
6:15am: Up early to edit down a NYT piece on pig wings, the next great offal makeover product. Also need to begin work on a piece for Garden & Gun, about Rocky and Carlo's, a Sicilian-Creole cafeteria that serves refinery workers in Chalmette, LA.
9:35am: It goes well. Until it doesn’t go well. I do predictable things, like curse at my laptop and crumble sheets of paper.
10:15am: Instead of working to make my own writing better, maybe it will be more satisfying to slice and dice work of others. The next issue of Gravy, the SFA's zine, edited by Sara Camp Arnold, is in pretty good shape. Only slicing needed. No dicing.
11:10am: I love my iPhone. I hate my iPhone. My iPhone senses my disloyalty and quits working. Nice people at Apple talk me into swiping the phone clean and restoring it as new. That works. Kind of.
11:30am: Drive south to Greenwood in the Mississippi Delta to meet with friends at Viking Range, and for lunch at Delta Bistro. The chef, Taylor Bowen Ricketts, used to live around the corner from us in Oxford.
1:30pm: Woozy from a one-two punch lunch -- of minestrone, threaded with sweet potato greens that were harvested in Mound Bayou, and muscadine-glazed duck breast served with Brussels sprouts -- I drive for home.
4:30pm: Coming out of the flatlands, crossing into the hills, I tune into a soul blues station. The DJ is talking about cleaning chittlins and peeling sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. I flash forward to my father’s house in Macon, GA, where we’ll go later in the week. When I call my father to check in, he's unpacking a box of ham he ordered from Nancy Newsom. Good man, my father.
See more Food Informants below:
John T. Edge writes a monthly column, "United Tastes," for the New York Times. He is a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and a longtime columnist for the Oxford American. His magazine and newspaper work has been featured in eight editions of the Best Food Writing compilation. He has been nominated for five James Beard Foundation Awards, including two M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Awards. Edge holds a master's degree in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. He is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South. Read John T. Edge's diary here.
Chris Jones and Richie Farina are chefs at Moto, a fine dining restaurant in Chicago that focuses on innovative and futuristic cuisine. They are both contestants on this season of "Top Chef: Texas." After attending Johnson and Wales University, Farina, the executive sous chef, started cooking in several Boston restaurants, and then joined Moto in 2008. In his spare time, he trains in mixed martial arts, a mixture of Ju Jistu wrestling and boxing. Jones, got his start cooking in his grandmother's kitchen. After working his way up the ladder in several restaurants, Jones is now the chef de cuisine of Moto. He lives with his wife and young daughter, Savannah. Read Chris and Richie's diary here.
Sean Henry is the owner of Houndstooth Coffee in Austin, Texas. Not until graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Radio, Television and Film, did Sean even begin drinking coffee. While working at a local grocery store, Sean began to explore the coffee world region by region. After the initial broad strokes of regional coffees, he began working at local cafes, learning the art of being a barista. At Houndstooth, Sean aims to provide customers with the sophisticated taste and presentation of a perfect cup of Joe. He not only finds value in a well-crafted cup, but in the coffee drinking experience as well. Read Sean Henry's diary here.
Jean K. Reilly MW is the Wine Director for the Morrell Wine Bar and the Wine Buyer at Morrell Wine Co. She is a 10-year veteran of the wine business and has worked in numerous parts of the trade. In 2010, Jean became this country's 26th Master of Wine, only the sixth American woman to hold this prestigious title. Jean's interest in wine began as a hobby while pursuing a career in corporate finance at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi and Deloitte & Touche. Abandoning the corporate track in 2001, Jean plunged into wine full-time, traveling the vineyards of Europe and the U.S. After a stint as sommelier at a small French restaurant in Manhattan, she worked as a wine instructor for several culinary schools, including Schiller International University in Switzerland. From 2007 to 2008, she also served as the Wine Consultant for Hilton Hotels. Read Jean Reilly's diary here.
Todd Coleman is the executive food editor of Saveur magazine, where for six years he's run the food side of things, including recipe selection, and overseeing the test kitchen. He's also an accomplished photographer who props, styles and photographs the majority of Saveur's covers, as well as frequently shooting and producing stories both in studio and on location. A graduate of the CIA, he's worked in restaurants, has been a private chef, edited at Everyday Food, produced shows for the Food Network, and has photographed cookbooks like The Japanese Grill by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, and the forthcoming Katie Workman book The Mom 100. He lives in Brooklyn, loves the Strand bookstore, hoards photo lenses and is a fiend for Indian food. Read Todd Coleman's diary here.
Chef Stephen Kalil joined PepsiCo and Frito-Lay in 2007 as their first ever corporate chef. In his role, he leads and inspires product development through the application of "Culinology", the blending of culinary arts and food science and technology. He is based at Frito-Lay headquarters in Plano, Texas. Read Stephen Kalil's diary here.
Food maintains a nearly constant presence in the life of 34-year-old competitive eating champion Timothy Janus, known to his fans as Eater X. Ranked #3 in the world by Major League Eating, Janus spends many of his weekends on the road, competing in contests across the country and around the world. A seven-year veteran of the sport, Janus has competed in over 100 events, owns seven world records, and yet still looks pretty good in a pair of pants. At night, Janus is a waiter at a pizza shop in Manhattan's East Village. His life, he says, has been a very good adventure. Read Eater X's diary here.
Geoff Bartakovics, 34, is the co-founder and CEO of Tasting Table, the free daily email publication all about food & drink culture. Before starting Tasting Table, Geoff was a business manager in asset-backed finance at UBS Investment Bank, where he coordinated business activities among the fixed income trading desk and the bank's middle- and back-office functions. Geoff was formerly a business analyst at Deloitte Consulting. He attended The University of Chicago, from which he graduated with honors in English. He was a Fulbright Scholar in comparative literature and philosophy in Berlin and Hamburg. He's an obsessive dinner party entertainer and a serious home cook. Read Geoff's diary here.
Elizabeth Laseter, an aspiring food journalist, is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University and lives in Washington, D.C. She received her diploma in Writing and Art History and is now pursuing a Culinary Arts Degree at L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md. The one-year program includes six months of learning techniques in the classroom and six months at an externship in a D.C. fine dining restaurant. Elizabeth documents her food adventures through two blogs, The Baltimore Food Rag and The D.C. Food Rag. She decided to attend culinary school after interning at Baltimore magazine and working with the food editor. Read Elizabeth's full diary here.
Jane and Terry Levan operate a 20-acre pastured poultry farm outside of Lexington, Texas called Dewberry Hills Farm, after the dewberry vines that grow wild on their land. They raise antibiotic- and hormone-free meat chickens for sale. Their chickens mostly live outdoors. The Devans call themselves "omnivores with a conscience;" Jane won't eat any meat unless she personally knowns who raised it and how it was processed. Jane and Terry began farming in 2003, after reading Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma. The pair had always wanted to farm, but they didn't want to follow the industrial agricultural model. Jane and Terry built a processing building on-site and became state certified so they could sell their birds commercially in May 2008. Read Jane's diary here.
"James" is an Apple employee. He works at Caffe Macs, the on-site cafeteria of Apple's campus in Cupertino, Ca. Reminiscent of Google's epic food offerings, Caffe Macs is pretty much a corporate food court dream-come-true. Read James' diary here.
Brooklyn-based Aaron Lefkove used to work in book publishing and as a freelance writer. After his office re-located to New Jersey, Lefkove decided he didn't want to do the commute. Lefkove and his business partner, Andy Curtin, had the idea for a Cape Cod-style seafood joint for awhile. One day at a barbecue, they decided to commit to opening a restaurant, Littleneck, Brooklyn's first and only classic New England-style beach side seafood shack. Besides working in restaurants growing up, Lefkove had no experience as a restaurateur. He acknowledges that the process has been a major learning curve, but so far, there haven't been any obstacles they couldn't get around. At first, he thought opening up a clam shack would be easier than finding a new job but it turns it that it is actually "WAY WAY WAY harder." Despite this being the "hardest, most stressful, most frustrating, most time consuming, most ambitious thing" he has ever done, it isn't nearly as hard as he thought it would be. Plus, he says he loves working for himself, working toward something he has "always dreamed about," and building something really exciting. Read Aaron Lefkove's diary here.
Jonathan Stich, 29, is a third generation farmer from Burlington, Wisconsin. He grew weary of the corporate world, went traveling and decided to become a farmer. After reading about how heirloom tomato grower Tim Stark in Pennsylvania sells his products to New York restaurants, Stich made the decision to spend a night in restaurants in Milwaukee and Chicago asking if they'd be interesting in buying local produce. Read more about Jonathan Stich's week here.
Erika Nakamura and Amelia Posada are the owners, managers and butchers in chief of LA's artisanal butcher shop Lindy and Grundy. (Erika is Grundy and Amelia is Lindy.) The two, who also live together and are a couple, opened their store on Fairfax last spring (profiled on HuffPost Food). Lindy and Grundy has already been feted as one of the most best butchers in Southern California -- and quite possibly its most sustainable. Read about a week in the life of Erika Nakamura and Amelia Posada's here.
Recently, inspired by a meeting at the San Francisco Food Bank, chef Karl Wilder started the food stamp challenge: living and eating on a food stamp budget. What began as a one week project has turned into a two-month long commitment. Wilder calculated that a family has $1.33 to spend per meal, and decided that when using oil and seasonings, the cost would be $1.22. In total, he has less than $4 to spend on food per day. He monitors his nutrition and caloric intake on FitDay. You can read more about his daily experiences at on his blog, Fusion On The Fly. Read about a week in the life of Karl Wilder here.
Chris Cosentino is the executive chef of San Francisco's Incanto, an offal-heavy (not sure what offal is? Check out our Whole Animal Guide here) rustic Italian restaurant located in San Francisco. While encouraging patrons to try different cuts of meat, Cosentino also champions eating locally. He's previously cooked at such renowned restaurants as Kinkead's and Chez Panisse, and cites Jean-Louis Palladin as a big influence on his cooking style. He also co-owns Boccalone, which sells various cured meats and house-made salami. To learn more about Cosentino, check out his website, Offal Good. Read about a week in the life of Chris Cosentino here.
"Jane," 24, has been working for Trader Joe's since 2007, though in 2009 she left for over a year to go work for Whole Foods. She did not like it there and returned to TJ's. At Trader Joe's, every employee does a range of tasks, but Jane's speciality is dairy. Below is her explanation of the pros and cons of the job: I like working for Trader Joe's because they pay me well and offer great benefits. They also respect me as an employee and make me feel like I'm useful and needed and not just another part-time employee that can be replaced (which has been the case at other retail jobs I've had). Trader Joe's is really good at hiring great people and I'm lucky to have so many wonderful co-workers. I don't like working at Trader Joe's because the work can be strenuous on my back and wrists. Being on a register for several hours at a time is tiring and somewhat soul crushing due to ignorant people who feel the need to be condescending to me because I work at a grocery store. I also feel that the company is becoming more and more corporate as it grows and it is beginning to have an impact on the enjoyability of being a part-time "crew member." I also work in a very busy store which causes the managers to stress out a lot and I don't enjoy being surrounded by it. Read about a week in the life of a Trader Joe's employee here.
Chef Nate Appleman is the Culinary Manager at Chipotle. This involves a range of tasks including developing new menu items, opening ShopHouse (Chipotle's upcoming Asian fast-casual chain) and furthering Chipotle's commitment to sustainable sourcing. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Appleman was previously executive chef and co-owner of San Francisco's super popular Italian restaurants A16 and SPQR. Appleman moved to New York in 2010 to open Pulino's. After leaving, Appleman took his current position at Chipotle. He has received a James Beard award for Rising Star Chef, been anointed Best New Chef by Food & Wine and is the champion of Food Network's Chopped All-Stars. Read about a week in the life of Nate Appleman here.
Freeganism is a lifestyle in which one employs "alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources." Gio Andollo is a writer, artist, musician and freegan. Andollo became a freegan when he realized that artists don't get paid much, but he didn't like the idea of working a "crappy, part-time job" to pay the bills. So he found another way. Andollo performs on the subway for about 20 hours a week, typically in two-hour intervals. He makes $10 to $50 per shift and has a love/hate relationship with busking. Andollo will buy food, but very rarely. The majority of his food comes from trash touring, or dumpster diving. He's become increasingly concerned with the abuses inherent in current economic systems: waste of resources, exploitation of people, degradation of the environment, calloused treatment of animals, commodification of time, labor, even war (thus human life in wholesale). In addition to busking part-time, he writes songs, blogs and books about these issues. Read about a week in the life of Gio Andollo here.
Captain Jason Joyce is an eighth-generation resident of Swan's Island, Maine. He is a Coast Guard Licensed Captain and a registered Maine Tidewater Guide. He has done lobster and fish research with the University of Maine, the University of Massachusetts, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Lobster Institute. Joyce is currently doing a lot of work with the Penobscot East Resource Center, which works to secure a viable future for the fishing communities of eastern Maine. Each week, he records HD video of lobstering that he gives to restaurants to educate customers about sustainable lobster fisheries in Maine. Captain Joyce is married to his high school sweetheart and they have four children. Learn more about Captain Jason Joyce here. Read about a week in the life of Jason Joyce here.
Martin Kastner is a serviceware designer extraordinaire/jack-of-all-design-trades for Grant Achatz's Alinea, Next and The Aviary. Kastner creates custom pieces that work with Achatz's elaborate and intricate food. Born in the Czech Republic, Kastner trained as a blacksmith and received an MFA in sculpture. (His thesis was about air). He met his American wife in Prague and moved to the US in 1998. In 2003, Kastner received an unexpected email from Grant Achatz, who had emailed a host of designers. Kastner was the only one to respond. They've partnered not only on serviceware, but also on web design, video and the Alinea cookbook. Kastner's other clients include L20 (an upscale, seafood-focused Chicago restaurant), Le Bernardin (Eric Ripert's homage to seafood) and Empellon (Alex Stupak's new Mexican restaurant in New York). Read about a week in the life of Martin Kastner here.