All Articles
All Articles
FOOD + DRINK

Underground Food Collective

The Midwest's premier culinary crew keeps its staff at the forefront and its provisions local

by Hans Aschim
on 12 June 2013
underground-food-collective-butcher-storefront.jpg

Deep in the American heartland, an unconventional answer to the modern food system is steadily gaining momentum. Breaking many conventions of the food industry, Madison, Wisconsin's Underground Food Collective (UFC) defies category. Originally a non-profit focused on local food events, UFC has grown into a restaurant, catering outfit, butchery and meat shop while continuing to serve the community. With pre-industrial, single ingredient-themed dinners in Chicago and New York, award-winning Madison restaurant Forequarter, a new butchery and meat processing facility, the group is making waves in the food industry.

underground-food-collective-rollercoasterfarms.jpg

"We started catering to fund our non-profit events and to employ us and our friends while we did them," says one of UFC's founders Jonny Hunter, who didn't intend to own a business or have employees. Part of UFC's success is its flat organization structure. There is no owner or traditional hierarchy, with a chef calling all the shots, often found in working kitchens. "I think it really changes the way kitchens run," Hunter says, "we are able to get people in who have more varied interests, who might not fit into most rigid structures and they really thrive here." This unique organization fosters UFC's collaborative environment, where employee input is paramount, making its multitude of projects not only feasible but successful.

underground-food-collective-charcuterie.jpg

UFC's commitment to its staff is matched by its pledge to quality and sustainability. The group only sources food from small local farms and has built its business on this principle. "I don't even know how to order from anyone else," jokes Hunter. Sourcing locally and purely in-season produce has driven the group's innovation and inspired much of their creativity. While Madison is located in one of the US's major organic food production areas, long winters make local-sourcing challenging. "I'm more proud of the food we have in the winter and early spring than in the summer because it takes so much more effort to pull together and to do it in a way that people appreciate," Hunter says.

underground-food-collective-forequarter.jpg

While UFC features almost exclusively local, Wisconsin ingredients, there is never a sacrifice for quality. We recently visited UFC's restaurant, Forequarter, to sample their gastro-rustic fare. With an old-fashioned bar and cabin-chic decor, the vibe is upbeat yet casual with the focus where it should be—on the food. Behind the bar, drinks are expertly mixed using house-made bitters and seasonal infusions. To start, a charcuterie plate featuring UFC's meats offer rich, rosemary goat salami and French-style saucisson sec. UFC sources its pork products almost exclusively from nearby Roller Coaster Farms.

underground-food-collective-trout.jpg

The streams that wind through the hills around Madison are renowned for their trout fishing. Taking full advantage of their nearby seasonal ingredients, UFC offered a wild caught rainbow trout filet with smoked roe and pickled peaches. The balance between high quality simple local ingredients and complex, innovative flavors along with precise execution are illustrative of UFC's values. But Forequarter's menu changes with the seasons as well as the availability of ingredients, making repeat visits a must.

Visit UFC's website for more information on their projects and check out Underground Meats for small batch, handmade dry meats starting at just $6.

Images by Emily Julka

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible
Loading More...