Jonny Hunter of the Underground Food Collective is leading the way when it comes to locally sourced, high quality meat. With a butcher shop, restaurant and catering service to manage, the collective is busier than ever. We were lucky enough to get a glimpse into the places and people behind one of Madison’s coolest and tastiest food scenes.
CC: Where are we and what makes this place so special?
JH: This is Forequarter Restaurant, we are located in the east side of Madison in the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for almost twenty years and when we decided to open this restaurant, I think it was because a lot of our friends and our community didn’t really have a neighborhood restaurant, so we were excited to create that. I think Forequarter has been a really fun experience for us as a group because it gives us a chance to cook creatively. We get to use a lot of ingredients from this region, and also it’s kind of like a party. We like to have this space be exciting and vibrant, and I think when people are here they really enjoy it. We care about the food, but also we care about having a pretty fun atmosphere.
CC: What kinds of things have you guys done to help cultivate that kind of atmosphere?
JH: Mostly bartenders doing shots off their belly buttons, haha. No, but I think we’ve made it a cozy space, it’s really tight and I think that we wanted it to be warm and friendly. Then in the summertime, we open it up and we’ve got street-side seating and it’s a relaxed atmosphere. We’re not trying to be overly pretentious about our food. We try to make it fun and also not take ourselves too seriously.
CC: Describe your sourcing process: How do you go about choosing where to get your products for the restaurant?
JH: I’ve been involved with small farms here in Wisconsin since I started cooking in the early 2000s and a lot of the farms that we source from are through people we’ve had relationships with for fifteen years. We really focus on sourcing ingredients from our community and buying from small farmers. There’s an awesome farmer’s market here where you can go to walk around, talk to people, find ingredients, and you can try new stuff, it’s pretty awesome. On top of that, I think just going and visiting farms and talking to the farmers. And we do a lot of foraging here out in the woods, where you can find ingredients that could be used in a restaurant, like mushrooms, ramps, all kinds of berries, and stuff like that. We could go foraging right now and get watercress.
CC: Describe how cooking began as something you started for leisure and then became an occupation:
JH: So it’s funny, I don’t cook as much as I used to. You know, as the company’s gotten bigger, I spend more and more time organizing, working with people, and seeing other people cook. Now, honestly cooking has become something that I come back to as a way to focus and have fun. And now I do around 15-30 events a year where I get to cook all of the food, and that’s a lot of fun for me. So, in a lot of ways I’ve created that space for myself, where even though I don’t do that day-to-day, I can come back to why I started doing this which is because I love cooking, I love making food.
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