Northern Michigan’s food gurus

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Northern Harvest book cover. Image: Catherine McEvoy

By Catherine McEvoy

Northern Michigan may be known for beautiful water views and serenity, but more recently it’s become known for a variety of excellent restaurants.

Emita Brady Hill explores the development of food culture in northern Michigan in her new book, Northern Harvest: Twenty Michigan Women in Food and Farming.

“I have been going up north for over 50 years and I was used to seeing no restaurants and then out of nowhere, these phenomenal restaurants started opening up,” she said. “It was fascinating to see these changes take place throughout my lifetime, especially in the last 20-30 years.

“I thought, ‘How could I not write about this?’”

Hill interviewed 20 women who explained the drastic transition they witnessed as restaurants started booming in northern Michigan. The book is broken into stories about orchards; coffee, tea and chocolate; pastry and cheese; restaurateurs; writers and teachers; and homesteads.

She wanted well-rounded coverage of northern Michigan food and culture that has drastically changed over the years, Hill said.

Nancy Kreck Allen, who has a passion for writing about food, said that when she started going up north in 1976 there was a very limited variety of food and markets available.

“I mean, you could get potatoes, beets and cabbage but there wasn’t a wide variety of goods available like there is now,” she told Hill.

There were only the basic necessities of food at local markets, but nothing over the top, said Allen, whom Hill interviewed because of her immense knowledge of food and resutrants gleaned from her work as a journalist.

Things have changed since then, Hill said.

“Within the last decade, and more recently the last few years, the amount of restaurants and diverse food available has gone through the roof,” Hill said.

Patty LaNoue Stearns, one of the journalists Hill interviewed, said, “This book really captures the beautiful food and people in northern Michigan. Emita did an excellent job getting a group of high end people up north who are very knowledgeable and doing great things.”

Hill got the idea for the book because of her familiarity with the area and the changes she saw. She wanted to make sure she had a diverse group of women who could share different types of stories. She did not have a strategic plan when conducting the interviews.

“I went in with one or two questions, asking them if they were born in the northern Michigan region and what got them interested in food,” she said. “After that, I let myself be guided by them, and what they felt comfortable sharing with me.”

Stearns has written about northern Michigan foods for the Detroit Free Press.

“My husband and I have a place in the Traverse City area and I always was intrigued by the abundance of phenomenal restaurants that came out of nowhere,” she said.

Stearns isn’t a one-of-a-kind chef or restaurant owner up north. She was included in the book because she is a  journalist who enjoys writing about food.

In 1999, Stearns and her husband moved up north for good and she was fortunate enough to connect with “food gurus” who helped her develop connections in the industry, she said She became a senior editor for the Traverse Magazine, focusing on northern Michigan foods.

The people up north who have invested in the food industry are a “gem community,” she said. “It was fun getting to meet such wonderful people along the way while interviewing them for the Traverse Magazine.”

Stearns is grateful to be a part of Northern Harvest. The book captures people’s voices and “is very worldly” due to the variety of stories and backgrounds everyone shared, she said.

Hill writes in the book:

“The transformation of this region into a culinary and agricultural Eden was a labor of love and an act of faith.”

Through interviewing and research, she successfully brings together a diverse group of women who share a love for northern Michigan food.

Northern Harvest: Twenty Michigan Women in Food and Farming is available for $24.99 on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Northern-Harvest-Michigan-Farming-Painted/dp/0814347134/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1586442109&sr=8-1)

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