George Motz Chats About the Chicago Food Film Festival


George Motz first appeared on our radar for Hamburger America, but that's just one of the ongoing projects he's involved with right now. After releasing a revised edition of that book in May, he also found time to host Travel Channel's Made in America and organize the fifth annual New York Food Film Festival. Now he's in town for the second annual Chicago Food Film Festival, which starts tonight. (Hopefully, you've already picked up a ticket, as the festival is nearly completely sold out.) But Motz didn't seem stressed by the schedule when I talked to him earlier in the week. In fact, we spent most of the time talking about Top Notch Beefburger (check out Dan Zemans's review here), which is not a bad conversation to have.

Everyone seemed genuinely excited about having the festival in Chicago. Were you surprised by the turnout, and is that why this one seems bigger this year? Yes, we were surprised by the turnout since 4 days before the festival last year we had sold only 60 tickets. We were pretty nervous that we'd have a bust on our hands. But two days later, the festival had sold out. Tough being the new kid on the block!

If we hadn't been a success, you wouldn't have heard this story. People did come up to me in the festival and said, 'Thank you for doing this. Thanks for making this happen in Chicago.' People were genuinely excited. And yes, because of the huge turnout last year we knew that we'd be back and be bigger this year.

What's different this year? Two major things. Last year I just pulled a bunch of a food films that I wanted people to see, and tried to keep things as simple as possible. No submissions or contests. I promised we'd have a competition next year. This year we opened submissions to Chicago and it will be competitive film festival. Also, last year it was just two events. Now it's four events over three days, which made things a little more complicated.

What's the most complicated part? It's hard to explain to people at first. But we literally have people on headsets, and when the macaroon is up on the screen, someone says, 'Release the macaroons, release the macaroons,' at the exact right moment. As I start to bring in the right people, I'm able to focus more on the films and on the day to day.

I never thought of that. We really want to show people things they've never seen. Take the Lowcountry oyster roast. Logistically this is a nightmare. Looking at the specifications for the cooking, we couldn't figure it out, and no distributors could get the right oysters. So my Southern relatives are renting a truck and driving them up. My uncle, he's also in the film about Lowcountry oystering, will drive. I thought, 'Are we totally insane to have a Low Country oyster barbecue in Chicago? Let's do it.' People will be knocked over. This is only from the coast of South Carolina.

What makes this different than the New York Food Film Festival? At first, we were going to have them all be called "The Food Film Festival," but then we decided to separate the two festivals. We want to try to tie in local purveyors to make it a local thing. We had a Farm to Film to Table in New York, so we had New York farms. In Chicago the Farm to Film to Table event will feature people like Art Jackson.

How do you have time to do all of these different things? I lucked out. The scheduling just kind of worked. The New York Food Film Fest was in the summer last year, but we moved it to the fall because it was just so hot. Then I got a call from the Travel Channel for the show, and the shooting only went up through August. I lucked out. I've been waiting for the Hamburger America epic to continue, but in a way Made in America still feels like an extension of that.

Speaking of burgers, you're on record as a Billy Goat fan, describe this adoration. Well, I don't play favorites. But at the Billy Goat you have to get the right burger. The key to a great burger there is to get a triple with two slices of cheese. It's a great burger, but it's also a great bar and a whole burger experience. I also love M Burger and DMK Burger Bar, which also has one of the best beer selections I've ever seen in a burger restaurant. One of my favorites is also Top Notch.

Oh, that place is awesome. Have ever tried the patty melt? No, I haven't.

Last time I was there with the Serious Eats crew we stumbled upon it. It's amazing. Oh. I'm definitely going to have to try that.

It is a little out of the way from the Loop. Yeah, you have to plan your trip to Top Notch. But I'll be making sure to go there soon.