As a farmer, I have a passion for food. Each day I wake up and call on the help of sunlight, rain, and soil to help grow food that I hope will one day nourish people’s bodies and spirits. But once I see someone walk away from the farm with one of my tomatoes, carrots, or kohlrabi, all I can do is smile and hope for the best. It’s kind of like sending your grown kids out into the world. You raise them right and prepare them to reach their full potential. Now their life is out of your hands. That’s how I feel when I watch my vegetables fly off the table at markets. A lot of love and care has gone into each one and now they’re gone, out into the big wide world to hopefully be prepared well and enjoyed, to bring life, joy, and nourishment to someone’s family. And honestly, that’s ok with me. I’m more than happy to send my kids, I mean my vegetables, out into the world. But how amazing would it be to work directly with someone who’s just as passionate about preparing and preserving food as I am about growing it?
Enter Chef Will Skinner. Chef Will was hired to be the chef at Bellwether Farm in the fall of 2018. If you’ve had the chance to be at Bellwether and eat some of his food, you know that having him here is a really good thing!
I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Chef Will and talk about his story with food and what he hopes to bring to the table at Bellwether Farm.
Farmer Kyle Mitchell (KM): What is one of your first memories about food that stuck with you?
Chef Will Skinner (WS): I mainly ate a lot of unhealthy foods growing up, but my first real memory about the joy and power of food was with my grandma when I was 9 years old. We went to my uncle’s house and foraged for blackberries for two hours. The excitement it brought her confused me. Why did this make her so happy? But I started to understand that this was a different connection than the food we normally bought. As we left, she fell and spilled all the blackberries everywhere. I started to cry while at the same time she started to laugh at the hilarity of it all.
I remember seeing the food they saved and canned on the wall in the basement, but I had no idea what it meant. I didn’t know they were actually taking food from the garden and preserving it. I thought, what’s all this weird stuff? Now I understand what they were doing. I also recall how we would shuck beans and chat for hours. When she passed away that kind of connection with food was gone for me.
KM: When did you really begin to have a passion for food?
WS: My parents both passed away when I was 20, my mom from leukemia and my dad from a drug overdose. I wanted to get more training as a cook, but I really had nothing. So I started calling up restaurants that I thought were interesting and would ask if I could work in the back for free. I spent about five months working and learning different techniques at different restaurants. Times were tough. I didn’t always know where I would sleep. Eventually, I connected with a chef who really took me under his wing. One day he took me to a farmer’s market where I met people who grew food and heard them talk about their passion for how they grew it. We bought some food and went back to the restaurant. The chef set out a can of tomatoes and a fresh tomato and made me try them. “Which one is better?,” he asked. Then we by 2019 tried corn and herbs and all kinds of things. The difference was incredible! I finally got the power of fresh, whole food, but I had no idea how to prepare it! From there I began learning how to prepare fresh food and how to work directly with the farmers who grew it. It changed my life. (As Will learned new skills, he thrived in his career, gaining a following and eventually helping to open a few new restaurants, most recently in Vermillion. After a while, though, he began to question why he was doing what he was doing. He thought at the time, “I’m making an impact for myself, but what am I doing for others? How can I translate what I’m doing to help others?” He quit the restaurant business for a few years and did a variety of side projects, including cooking demos with the homeless and those struggling with drug addiction in Lorain. His passion to share his knowledge and love of food with others eventually led him to the job at Bellwether.)
KM: What are you looking forward to the most at Bellwether?
WS: Food is something that brings us together. It’s all about connection. When we connect with food, we connect with each other and we connect with the earth. People should be able to leave here with a much different perspective about the power of food. I’ve never had this kind of connection with a farmer before. There’s a deeper education and transformation when you’re actually cooking at the farm. The good food starts in the field. This food is only as good as the quality of food that comes from the farm and the taste speaks for itself. There are days here that the food is so fresh it won’t even go into the walk-in cooler. That’s a special thing. I also love the opportunity of using the teaching kitchen to teach youth and adults alike about our connection with growing, preparing, and preserving food.
My overall goal is to serve fresh, amazing food in an approachable, affordable way. When people come to Bellwether, come with an open mind. Forgive your grandma for overcooking those green beans and forget that you don’t like green beans! Give us the opportunity to paint a new picture with food. Food was the thing that I became good at and it transformed my life.
Food is the source of life and when it’s grown with love, prepared with love, and shared with love, it’s a powerful thing. I’m excited to share that passion with everyone who comes out to spend time at Bellwether.