Whew! Michael Nagrant has spent the past two months counting down Newcity’s “The Big Heat,” a list of 50 of “Chicago’s top food and drink influencers,” and he’s finally done. Starting with a very symbolic Charlie Trotter pick at number 50 — he was number one the last time the list was issued in 2003 — the list made its way through a variety of cuisines, restaurateurs, and industry players. In the end, Rick Bayless came out on top thanks to his tireless promotion of “locally farmed, consciously raised foods,” which has introduced “millions” to “better ways of eating.” The epic list also marks the end of Nagrant’s Newcity stint. We reached out to him to see what it was like to create “The Big Heat” and to see what was next.
Nagrant wrote to us in an e-mail that it was “incredible to look back and see the wealth of talent in Chicago.” In fact, there was “so much local talent” he had to leave off some of his favorite chefs. He especially regretted taking off Avec’s Koren Grieveson and Bonsoiree’s Shin Thompson, both chefs he described as “low key folks that not everyone’s aware of…and this is a list marked by quality and public awareness.”
About the end, Nagrant admits that it is “kind of bittersweet.” While he’ll stay on as CS’s dining critic, he sees the article as the “culmination” of his half-decade of food writing work. He let us know that he was especially “grateful” to Newcity publisher Brian Hieggelke for giving him a shot. What’s next? “I’ll continue to try and find a way to make this work in the long term,” he wrote, “As when faced with a 22 course tasting menu, mountains of foie gras, or a plate of offal, I never say never.”