The exodus is coming to an end. Saying Brandon Baltzley's road has taken many twists and turns might be the understatement of the year: From low-country Louisiana to New York, from one month at Mado to being bounced from Tribute before even opening, from rehab to Pensiero, from Maine to Pittsburgh, the roller coaster is dropping Baltzley back in the Chicago area. TMIP, a self-sustained rural 15-seat restaurant and boarding house in Michigan City, Indiana, is coming early 2014. And it's Baltzley's baby.
Since leaving Pensiero, he's been doing Crux popups all over the place: Pittsburgh, Portland, Chicago, and Calgary. "After all that shit went down, I didn't have a lot of options," he says. "I didn't have money to do stuff at the time. I wanted I have my own restaurant, I wanted to grow my own food, I wanted to be outside of the city, I wanted to be in a rural setting."
In his six months in Maine the idea percolated, and soon enough he fell in love with the peaceful rural lifestyle and was dead-set. "The whole time I've been gone I was preparing for this," he says. Earning a farming apprenticeship, he picked up farming, canning, preservation, butchering, and storage techniques to prepare himself for the "huge" production.
On a six-month scouting dash over Southern and Western Illinois, he almost settled in Starved Rock, but the three-hour distance was too far from the city. He came across a private four-acre farm in Michigan City (he can't reveal the address yet because of licensing) with a log cabin and fell in love. They're rehabbing the log cabin, adding an attachment, and building other structures on the property. A small five-to-seven-person farm-and-restaurant staff will live there year-round. They'll grow the food, raise the animals, store for the winter, sell to farmers markets, and serve one dinner a night at TMIP. The long-term goal is to have almost a bed and breakfast in the future: Lodgings, breakfast, family meals. He wants a whole-day's experience.
If it sounds like a commune, it almost is. "It is going to be super hippie," he says. "I hear it from everyone, 'you're going to be the first hippie-modern restaurant.'" He's basing it on the Swedish model but Americanizing it by incorporating Native American preservation philosophies. It will be solar-powered. They'll butcher lamb, goats, pork, chickens, quails. Not cattle or dairy or some vegetables, or salt, oils, and chemicals. They'll buy cattle and fly some others in, but it will all be from Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.
To start, it'll just be dinner. One three-hour 15-cover seating with 12-20 courses, based solely on the seasons and the crops. The space will have modern aesthetics and modern equipment. They'll utilize direct heat and some different culinary methods.
Construction starts in April, then they'll start planting crops and raising animals to harvest, butcher, can, and preserve in the fall and next spring. The goal is to open by March 2014.
"There's going to be a lot of testing and work going into it before we open because I really, really, really would like this to get some fucking (Michelin) stars," he says. And what does TMIP stand for? "We're not releasing that ever, but it's fairly easy to figure out."
He's been working at Bar Marco in Pittsburgh for the last few months, honing his skills. Then he'll embark on a book tour for Nine Lives until May before hitting the farm for good. Brace yourself, Michigan City.
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