Victory: A Documentary about Food, Gardening, and History

I love food. And that’s fundamentally why I began to garden. Since beginning, I’ve discovered that I actually love to garden, too–and that gardening leads to making friends when you become a member of a community garden. The Peterson Garden Project is a community vegetable garden on the north side of Chicago. The whole reason it came to be is that LaManda Joy, who founded the garden, decided that she wanted to teach people to grow their own food. Today, the garden includes 157 plots devoted to growing veggies, so that mission is accomplished. It’s a great achievement, but now the volunteers with the garden want more. We want to convince lots of people–everyone, really–to create community gardens. So we are working on a documentary.

We were lucky to forge a partnership with Crosstown Productions and The Tribeca Flashpoint Media Academy, and now we’re working on our film. The idea is to create a movie that tells the story of Victory Gardens in Chicago–historic and contemporary–to convince people that they’re well worth the effort. To do it, we’re doing a series of interviews with well-known gardeners, civic leaders & chefs. Since I’m a professed foodie, I’d like to begin by talking about the chefs.

When I first started brainstorming with one of the film’s creators, Peter Hawley, our list of dream-chef-interviews was short, and easy to craft. If you want to talk to chefs in Chicago, you start with Charlie Trotter. And you jump to our local champions of the farm-to-table movement, Rick Bayless and Paul Kahan. I’m delighted to say that all three have agreed to be filmed for the documentary.

We began with Chef Trotter. It’s safe to say that we were all extremely nervous to enter his restaurant. It was our first interview, and he is a renowned perfectionist. We felt the pressure. Chef Trotter’s assistant, Adriana, was grace personified. She did her best to put us at ease–but we were a little too excited to take this event lightly. Our film crew prepped camera angles, lighting, sound… and when we were just about set, discovered that something or another broke. I’m not even sure what it was. Suffice it to say that there was a frantic e-mail sent to someone back at their studio, who dutifully bolted to the restaurant with the replacement component. We were ready, and Chef Trotter was eager to talk.

And the interview was simply fantastic. It was clear that he’d carefully thought about the questions we offered in advance. He quickly told stories of how he gardened growing up, and what that meant to him as a person, before he knew he’d become a chef. He further recanted a history of trends in fine dining, from the 1980’s to the present. He noted that in the ’80s, chefs sought exotic ingredients. It was the beginning of globalization when it came to food, and getting exotic ingredients–regardless of their quality–was the trend. Today, that’s changed. Chefs are far more concerned with serving local foods, perfectly ripened, ready to eat. Ingredients are where it’s at, and that’s where gardening helps everyday people prepare the most delicious meals for their families. Honestly, if we’d prepped a script for Chef Trotter, it couldn’t have been as perfectly suited to our mission than what his words actually were. When we wrapped, we were elated. What could make a better day?

Well, we were about to discover just that.

Chef Trotter thanked the full team, then asked Adriana to follow him into his kitchen. She emerged a few moments later with a single question: “Chef Trotter wonders if you might have time to stay for lunch?”

Take a moment to imagine what is running through our heads at this point. And just imagine what it must have been to be Adriana, watching our faces as we digested this question. Then think about the employee of the production company whose only role was to bring the infamous broken component to the restaurant. Talk about a lucky guy!

We had time for lunch. Oh yes we did. And that’s the story I’ll tell on my next blog post.

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2 responses to “Victory: A Documentary about Food, Gardening, and History

  1. So, I understand you need someone to take notes when you go talk to Rick Bayless….

  2. I still can’t believe this all happened the way it did. Les was there, too. He was absolutely adorable. That story comes next…

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