Growing up in Toledo, I was trained to say that "this town sucks", that "I can't wait to get out", "There's so much more to do in other cities". This was the anthem of the youth in the 80's (maybe today too, for all I know). Well, I got out. And I really enjoyed my time in California. And I got some perspective on the Midwest. Ohio remained, home. For several years, I had a conflicted perspective on how I felt about Ohio. I missed the little things, but I could never imagine myself placed back in the gray and gloomy backdrop, with the backwards culture, and depressing politics. Eventually, my desire to be surrounded by family got the best of me and I submitted, we returned.
Upon returning, I regretted the move almost immediately, I felt like, I had really overestimated how much I missed the place. Time went on, and the wine business worked pretty well for me here. I eventually discovered that, I wasn't alone. There were many talented, and experienced food and wine folks returning to their hometowns. The cost of living on the coasts and the relatively meager existence that this business sometimes offers made people grow up and re-calculate their life choices. Maybe it was the family heartstrings. These weren't people that failed in New York or Chicago and were now in their parents' basements, these were people that made a conscious decision to continue their career progressions in cities that weren't necessarily synonymous with food, wine or culture, but that they wanted to be a part of building that. What was seemingly a move of necessity or convenience has turned into reverse migration with a noble common purpose, to make the most of what we're given.
I'm not going to delve too deeply into why we felt that the big city held the life satisfaction. We all agree that there is no shortage of things to do, or culture in the biggest of cities. While that may be what lights your fire, I'm here to tell you that the Midwest, and certainly my little corner of it has something that the big cities have a hard time offering-chance to build something together.
Thanks in large part to a litany of chefs from Cleveland returning to their roots, and hometowns in the last dozen or so years after success in L.A, Chicago and New York, Cleveland has undergone a Food and Wine Renaissance quite unlike any American City I can think of. The national food media has begun to pay attention. That idea that we, as Ohioans, or Michiganders (cue the Chrysler Eminem commercial), can get together with our friends and families and with a twinkle in our eye and with the nearly forgotten histories of what our cities were like long before we were born, make this, our homes and hometowns, the place that satisfies our wanderlust. Bring the proverbial Mountain to Mohammed.
This movement is not limited to chefs. Living in the breadbasket of America, we grow stuff, and the growers have all changed. We now have cheese-makers, dairy farms that follow their own strict guidelines, cattle, hog and chicken farmers raising free range, naturally fed livestock, and entire markets devoted to nothing but locally grown and produced products. The Midwest as an artisan mecca is becoming a reality. People that left or would have left a dozen years ago are opting to be a part of the movement here at home.
I've seen varying levels of this movement in all of the major cities I call on, whether it's Detroit, with the incredible ethnic food and underground wine and supper clubs or Cleveland with the Celebrity chef fueled downtown and surrounding neighborhood reinvention to Cincinnati and Columbus's burgeoning food scenes, change is happening right here, right now. I say this with all sincerity- I've never been more professionally satisfied or inspired than I am right here, right now.