Goodness knows we’re bursting with ideas when it comes to possible content for all-food festivals such as Taste Talks, which is why we’re glad we’re not responsible for whittling all those ideas down. Not to mention coordinating and wrangling all of the talent. And oh yeah, actually pulling off the entire event. In Chicago. Which is why we’ve got to give it up to Kelsey Kreiling and her partner Mallory Ulaszek, taxed with keeping all of the various balls up in the air for the very first installment of Taste Talks Chicago. We chatted with Kelsey about how the event will be uniquely representative of the Windy City’s dining scene, the most exciting and difficult aspects of organizing such an ambitious festival, and why she’s still more than willing to commit just as much time to her day job.
How did the two of you get involved with programming the Chicago iteration of Taste Talks?
We were lucky enough to be connected to Taste Talks Brooklyn by Jenna Lieberman, the head of marketing and public relations for One Off Hospitality. We had collaborated on some projects in the past and she was kind enough to refer us. We’ve been delighted to continue to work closely with Jenna and Paul Kahan as we get ready for the fall!
Although much of the program is similar to Brooklyn, which specific-to-Chicago events do you think truly represent what the local dining scene is about?
Our panel on farm to table dining with Paul Kahan, Michel Nischan, Dan Cleverton and Marc Vetri is a standout representative of the unique aspects of producing an event in the Midwest. We’re in the heartland of some incredible farms and I think that has shaped Chicago food in a huge way. We’re also really excited to be featuring some amazing cider and beer panels/tastings with local brewers, which is a huge part of food and drink culture in Chicago. On a personal level, I’m super excited to see Jessica Murnane talk about the magic of vegetables with Amanda Cohen from Dirt Candy NYC, and Anne Owen of Owen + Alchemy.
What would you say makes Paul Kahan especially well suited to represent the food scene in Chicago?
Paul’s restaurants represent the best of what Chicago dining can be—dedicated and focused, but still innovative and playful. I’ve seen his team talk about the way they create dishes for each of his restaurants, and it’s nothing short of spectacular. He was one of the first chefs in Chicago to develop personal relationships with local farmers, and he continues to advocate for mindful practices, be it butchery at PQM or seafood at Nico. I’ve spoken with so many people in the food world in Chicago that applaud not only his influence as a chef, but also his generosity as a mentor, and that kind of leadership makes him a perfect first curator for Taste Talks Chicago.
What are some of the most exciting and difficult aspects of organizing a festival of this magnitude?
My partner Mallory and I used to pride ourselves on having pretty tidy email inboxes, and this project has definitely changed that! All jokes aside, there are a lot of moving parts to the festival, from the All Star BBQ and seminars to dinners and special events, but for me, the hardest thing has been narrowing down what exactly we can do this year. We had two to three times as many panels and events on our brainstorm list as we could conceivably do in one weekend, but hopefully we can revisit a lot of those ideas next year.
The most exciting thing is definitely having the ability to pull together such an incredible group of people from Chicago, and to add in other voices from around the continent (Matty Matheson is coming to us all the way from Canada)! I’m thrilled to see what type of connections and conversations will happen when we bring all of those people together.
Tell us more about your new company, Presence Agency.
Presence is a Media & Production agency created by my partner Mallory Ulaszek and myself. We work with brands to expand and refine their message, be it through websites and design or in-person events. We met a few years ago at a supper club when we were both working in fashion. I migrated to the hospitality world a couple of years ago and I think Mallory is excited to be on the delicious side, which makes sense, since our friendship was basically founded on a mutual love of seafood. The absolute best part of our work is the incredible people we get to work with — from musicians and writers to chefs and mixologists, every project is a new adventure.