Go behind the kitchen doors of Fort Wayne’s food scene with the film series ‘Mise & Place’

If you could ask chefs for advice on the best places to eat and drink in their cities, where would they take you?

That’s the question driving a new short film series in Fort Wayne called “Mise & Place.” It follows local restauranteurs around for a night on the town, eating, drinking, and sharing conversations with fellow members of the local food scene. Dreamed up by a crew of Fort Wayne filmmakers, artists, and restaurant staff, “Mise & Place” uses roughly 10-minute, documentary-style films to tell the story of the city’s food culture from the perspective of workers behind the swinging doors at local eateries—people who are passionate about their craft and community.

The "Mise & Place" crew behind the scenes, filming Season One in Downtown Fort Wayne at Copper Spoon.

Matt Thomas of Upper Valley Film Co., had been talking about the concept for a long time with local restaurateur, Johnny Perez of the Cal-Mex spot, Mercado on The Landing. Their vision was to gather a film crew and follow Perez and a few members of his team around Fort Wayne as they visited some of their favorite local spots, sampling food and sharing insights with workers there, staff to staff.

“We envisioned creating something kind of like a local food version of ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’ on Netflix,” Thomas says. “We thought: Why can’t we use the production resources we have in Fort Wayne to create the type of films we would want to watch on TV about things happening right in our own backyard?”

The "Mise & Place" crew behind the scenes, filming Season One in Downtown Fort Wayne.

As the concept evolved, Thomas says the films became as much about Fort Wayne’s spirit of collaboration and emerging culture, as they are about its food. 

“Some of the chefs and restaurant staff we interviewed have moved here from larger cities, like Portland,” Thomas says. “Talking with them and seeing our city from their perspective helps you appreciate Fort Wayne in a different light.”

The "Mise & Place" crew behind the scenes, filming Season One in Downtown Fort Wayne at The Landing Beer Co.

“Mise & Place” is releasing its first episode of Season One, featuring J.K. O'Donnell's Irish Ale House, today on July 25 (watch it above). Two additional episodes, featuring The Landing Beer Co. and Copper Spoon, will be available at monthly intervals on the “Mise & Place” YouTube channel and other social media channels. The crew behind “Mise & Place” includes Thomas and Ruth Yaro of Upper Valley Film Co., Brandon Voglewede of Lofthouse Films, and the artist/designer Matt Plett

Perez and his team at Mercado are the local restauranteurs featured in Season One, visiting a few of their favorite local eateries. Each season, “Mise & Place” will spotlight different restaurateurs as guides. They plan to start filming Season Two in September and to keep growing and expanding the series from there—both locally and across the U.S.

Input Fort Wayne sat down with “Mise & Place” crewmembers, Thomas and Yaro, to learn more about the project and what to expect in Season One.

The "Mise & Place" crew behind the scenes, filming Season One in Downtown Fort Wayne at J.K. O'Donnell's Irish Pub.

IFW: How did you come up with the concept for “Mise & Place”?

MT: Johnny and I had been circling around this idea for a while, always kind of joking like "Oh, hey wouldn't this be fun to do," but never quite pulling the trigger on it. We spent I don’t know, maybe a year or two trading Netflix shows and Youtube series and tinkering on how his professional experience, Upper Valley’s film production, and our food community can all fit together into a story-based series. Ultimately, we just tried to answer the never-ending question, "Where would you take friends and family out to dinner when they come to visit?" And things grew from there. 

IFW: How did you build the team behind this project?
RY: It was important to put together a team that was open to collaboration and who would be all in for this kind of project. We had a lot of fun working together and getting it all planned out ahead of time. This isn’t the kind of project you just do without lots of planning, and it was a team effort. We had a fantastic crew for this, including Matt Thomas: Director, Brandon Volgelwede: DP, Ruth Yaro: Producer, Dana Mroczek: Audio Tech, and Matt Plett who created the branding. 
MT: Building out a crew is always like a scene from a heist movie. It was a no-brainer on who to call for this because everyone has had some sort of development project experience. We wanted to offer them a different take on those familiar projects with “Mise & Place.”

The "Mise & Place" crew behind the scenes, filming Season One in Downtown Fort Wayne at Mercado on The Landing.

IFW: The name “Mise & Place” seems like a play on the French term, “mise en place,” or prepping ingredients to cook a meal. Tell us how you came up with the name.

MT: "Mise en place" is a culinary term that means, "everything in its place.” By adding a bit of English to the title and purposely skewing it, we're calling attention to the restaurant industry's cultural impact on the local setting. At its core, “Mise & Place” is a branded content series focused on the intersection of food and culture. 

IFW: Speaking of “places” and their connection to food, how do you see local food culture influencing a city’s sense of place, and more specifically, Fort Wayne’s placemaking efforts?

MT: It reinforces a sense of pride in your city. I think anywhere in the world, people want to claim they have the best burger or coffee or taco or whatever, and Fort Wayne is at this pivotal point of establishing what that is for themselves. Can’t wait to watch it unfold.

IFW: What’s one thing that’s surprised you while working on this project—either something about Fort Wayne, local food, or just about being part of a project like this?
RY: As someone who is more of an outsider to the local food industry, I felt like I got to have a really cool look into the community and talent we have here. I really enjoyed hearing all the roundtable conversations and felt like I gained a whole new perspective of what Fort Wayne really has to offer and all the awesome people who are contributing to it. 

IFW: Of the food, people, and stories featured so far, what’s one moment that stands out to you the most? 

MT: My favorite moment was walking into Copper Spoon with the Mercado team during our night of production. It captured what I felt was true about the series dream and direction, but hadn't really seen for myself yet. The camaraderie and silly greetings ("Oh, they let anybody in here!") was a bit of a solidifying moment that the larger story we're trying to tell has only hit the tip of the iceberg.

The "Mise & Place" crew behind the scenes, filming Season One in Downtown Fort Wayne at J.K. O'Donnell's Irish Pub.

IFW: What’s one thing you hope people take away from Season One?

MT: That you don’t need to drive two or three hours for an amazing and thoughtful dining experience. Fort Wayne has more credibility in this industry than we give ourselves, and “Mise & Place” is going to shed more light on that. 

IFW: What’s something you’re looking forward to in future seasons? 

MT: I think there’s a larger story of suppliers that we haven’t addressed yet. Being in a heavy agriculture region, I think it would be amazing to be able to touch on some of the ingredient sourcing that’s right down the road. 

IFW: Johnny Perez and his team at Mercado were featured in Season One. Do you have a chef/team to feature in Season Two, or is there an application process for chefs/restaurants who are interested?

MT: We’ve been mulling a few options of people we’d like to approach for Season Two. Ultimately, teams are selected based on who we think has a good story to tell and who has good relationships in the Fort Wayne food scene. Personally, I’d like to see a breakfast/brunch or food truck take in future seasons. 

IFW: Last but not least, what do you think makes Fort Wayne’s food community special?

MT: It’s a big small city. Everyone seems to have a similar story of coming up under some renowned chef or from some amazing restaurant, and there’s kind of this interesting network throughout the industry. Pair that with some ol’ fashioned midwestern manners, and you end up with a community that’s supportive, competitive, and progressive all at the same time. 
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Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.