For Michael Gebert, the proverbial closing door was the sudden closure of Grub Street Chicago - one of many recent casualties on the Chicago food media scene. But now, the former Grub Street editor has launched a podcast called Airwaves Full of Bacon. The podcast is streamed on his blog, Sky Full of Bacon, a long-running side project where he posts more personal features and experimental writing. “I always have like 20 more ideas of things to do and no time to do it,” Gebert said. “The thing I like about shifting to a different medium is you get different things from the same people. You change the dynamic of how they are talking about something and it comes out in a new and fresh way."
His first guests on the podcast were Chris Curren, who spoke about taking over the kitchen at Homestead; Dan Schleifer, a friend who recently returned from Turkey; and Anthony Todd, the food editor at Chicagoist. Todd and Gebert discussed the “massacre” of the Chicago food media at length. Indeed, this year alone, the city has lost three food critics (David Tamarkin and Julia Kramer of Time Out Chicago as well as Michael Negrant of the Sun-Times and CS) as well as three food media sources (the Sun-Times’ food section, Time Out Chicago’s print edition and WBEZ’s food blog). And of course, Grub Street Chicago, owned by New York Magazine, which shut down all local blogs outside of New York City
Among the issues noted on the podcast: the city’s thriving culinary scene is suddenly and unexpectedly without a voice. The media void is not due to lack of talent in the kitchen, nor a lack of talent at the keyboards, the duo noted during the podcast. In fact, more chefs are opening more restaurants now than ever, Todd said, but at the end of the day it comes down to money, as so many things do.
Clips in newspapers are being replaced by a single Tweet by an influential Tweeter, as Todd and Gebert mention in the podcast. Gebert, however, sees a silver lining:
“There are certain things that people who are getting paid to do full-time are much more inclined to do, like go into a restaurant when it is under construction and talk to the chef for an hour," Gebert said. "There is clearly still an audience for that, and the fact that advertising models for that are incredibly imperfect doesn’t mean the audience isn’t there. It just means they haven’t figured out how to turn the audience into money.”
If he learned anything during his time at Grub Street, Gebert said, it was that his readers had as much of an appetite for quality content as they did for food. A post about a supper club book earned more attention on Facebook than another article about super high-concept restaurant Next. Basically, the best pieces were the ones with heart, he summarized. These were the stories that defined Gebert’s two years at Grub Street - pieces like chronicling Two's rebound from lackluster opening reviews, or the tale of a fourth-generation grocer attacking a massive wheel of Parmesan.
So we have hungry readers and talented chefs with stories to tell. Yet the question remains: how will those stories be told? We'll be listening to see what Gebert has to say next.