We first met Ari Weinzweig, co-owner of the great and influential Zingerman’s deli/bakeshop/mail order colossus in Ann Arbor, Michigan, shortly before a panel on sustainability at the industry conference PlateCooks in Chicago last week, alongside the likes of Randy Zweiban (chef of Chicago’s first LEED Gold level-certified restaurant, Province) and the principal of a sustainable school on Chicago’s southwest side— all very earnest about issues such as composting and food waste. A few hours later, we were attending a rapturous bacon dinner with Weinzweig at L’Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin.
That sums up Weinzweig’s world view and approach to business and life— on the one hand, as a “lapsed anarchist” who tends to drop names like Wendell Berry and Max Stirner into discussions of his business, he’s deeply concerned with creating a work place that’s creative and nurturing and doesn’t send you home hating your job, and he’s written management books to that effect. But on the other hand… mmm, bacon. There’s no point in being the CEO of a food business if you’re not deeply, meaningfully in love with food, and Weinzweig insists that it’s perfectly logical to serve four or five different kinds of bacon in the same meal, as one might serve different wines or cheeses.
The result of this love affair is Weinzweig’s latest book, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon, which is mainly available directly from Zingerman’s, and the series of bacon dinners he conducting with chefs he likes like L’Etoile’s Troy Miller, who— far from overloading us with grease and salt— wove threads of bacon flavor through a surprising and surprisingly subtle range of dishes. Before dinner we had a chance to talk with Weinzweig about the state of bacon, a couple of years after the food press declared it a trend. Watch the video below.