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Out of the embers of quarantine, two Chicago food lovers came together to create a passion project to share with the world.

John Manion, owner and chef of El Che Steakhouse & Bar, and Maggie Hennessy, freelance journalist and local food critic, built a friendship through the years. As these things happen, the two started a conversation about writing a cookbook together, which then turned into an idea for self-publishing a zine. 

Meat Project combines John’s experience with live fire cooking and Maggie’s wordsmithing for a series of essays and illustrated photo guides, as well a tips and techniques to build the reader’s confidence in campfire building and steak cookery. This first edition centers around the art of building the fire and features half a dozen accompanying recipes.

“Meat Project is essentially a guide to winning backyard grilling forever, but it’s about something more important too — it’s about reclaiming some self-reliance through satisfying home cooking projects in an overwhelming, heavy year that’s confined so many of us to our homes,” remarks Manion. 

The two co-authors enlisted the support of a number of other friends and industry experts as well. Will Duncan, the owner of FitzGerald’s Nightclub, contributed a recipe for a spicy red wine cocktail; Emily Spurlin, the pastry chef at Lula Café, shared her recipe for a plum crisp; and Chandra Ram, cookbook author and editor of Plate Magazine, edited the whole book. The project came to life with their friend Emily Schwartz’s design work, freelance illustrator Lilly Lam’s handmade illustrations and Chicago photographer (and Maggie's brother-in-law) Tom Gallagher’s photos.

To fund the publishing, they created a Kickstarter. The goal: reach $10,000 by the end of September. Supporters can pledge here. $20 will receive a copy of the zine, while pledges of $50 or more will receive the zine, a custom tote and an hour-long Zoom chat with Manion. 

Hennessy adds, “Our hope is that Meat Project offers a way to reclaim something in these times of huge uncertainty, all in your own backyard. Everyone’s world shrunk to their house, so why not make the most of it while you’re there?”

Manion and Hennessy are already planning for future editions of the zine.


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