Jonny Hunter

The Artisanal Chef

Jonny Hunter BA2005, MPA2011 went from five years as a vegetarian to raising pigs with a farmer friend. But being vegetarian made him more conscious of consumption and waste, he says, and that informs his current work producing artisan meats. “My goal is to work with meat that is better, but to make it so people eat less of it and eat different cuts and use the whole animal more efficiently,” he says.

After teaching himself how to slaughter and butcher pigs, Hunter started the Underground Food Collective, which grew into a flourishing catering business in Wisconsin. It also hosted pop-up dinners in Chicago and New York, where Hunter’s team served pickled trout, bison jerky marinated in maple syrup, and other creations.

Chef Jonny Hunter preparing his dishes.

Guest chef Jonny Hunter of Underground Food Collective works with Slow Food UW to create a Family Dinner Night meal. (Photo courtesy of Jim Klousia for Edible Madison.)

By 2016, the Madison-based company included Underground Butcher; Forequarter Restaurant, which was nominated for best new restaurant by the James Beard Foundation and named among the nation’s 50 best new restaurants by Bon Appétit magazine; Underground Meats, which has won three Good Food Awards for its charcuterie; and Underground Catering. The collective works with more than 100 small Wisconsin farms, returning more than $1 million to producers every year.

Hunter was named chef of the year by Madison Magazine in 2015 and is a 2015 winner of the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s Forward under 40 award, which honors young alumni for significant achievement. He earned his master’s from the La Follette School of Public Affairs, and his degree has inspired him to share his knowledge with others.

In 2013, Hunter attracted national press when he crowd-funded an open-source guide to meat-curing safety standards. He founded Bike the Barns, an annual fundraiser that helps low-income families buy fresh, locally grown vegetables, as well as Food Works, a nonprofit that promotes job training for culinary careers. He also helped launch the Madison Area Chefs Network and was lead organizer for that group’s YumYum Fest, a food and music festival.

Hunter recently opened a Minneapolis shop called Lowry Hill Meats, and he’s working on a second Madison restaurant called Middlewest, as well as a Milwaukee restaurant and butcher shop.