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TURNER Q&A: Jeffy Mai, Time Out Chicago

TURNER Q&A: Jeffy Mai, Time Out Chicago

Jeffy Mai is the editor of Time Out Chicago, covering things to do, see, and eat in the city. With over a decade of experience covering the city’s local food and beverage scene at publications including Eater Chicago and Thrillist, Jeffy brings his love of storytelling to every piece he writes. TURNER’s Kate Davis recently chatted with Jeffy about his thoughts on the current media landscape, how publicists and writers can work together productively, and more.

You’ve covered the Chicago food and beverage scene for more than a decade – an impressive feat! What stands out to you in those 10 years?

I have been doing it so long, but it doesn’t feel like that. The dining scene as a whole has evolved so much. Many longstanding, beloved institutions are no longer around but the quality of restaurants remains high. Diners are really passionate about the restaurant scene as a whole now, and if you offer good food, they’ll come—no matter where you’re located. Chefs have to bring their best because there are plenty of options and customers won’t settle. The pandemic has also obviously changed things astronomically—not just in restaurants but every industry.

What’s your favorite part of being an editor at Time Out Chicago?

I really enjoy telling the stories of all the amazing people, businesses and restaurants – showcasing the best of the city. I love doing profile pieces of people. I recently worked with a writer on a piece about how Chicago chefs are reinventing the Chicago dining experience, making dining more approachable and affordable. Telling stories like that is my favorite thing about this job.

What are some current food trends you love?

I love that more and more at-home chefs are getting a chance to showcase their talents. Talented cooks don’t have to operate a brick-and-mortar restaurant anymore — they are popping up in farmers markets and ghost kitchens, or incubators. Ghost kitchens are one good thing that came out of the pandemic. I love that people are doing things that would not have been possible previously. People really care about food and want to know more about it.

Are there any current food trends that you wish would go away?

Anything that originates on TikTok. And also, I wish we would stop calling every bar a speakeasy.

Are there any food-themed shows you watch?

I really like The Bear. As a whole, it gets the restaurant industry more accurately than any others. I don’t watch a lot of other cooking competition shows, but I do watch Top Chef and love it.

What books/publications/content inspires you?

I love Eater, and I read Bon Appetit and Food & Wine for inspiration. I keep track of trends and see what’s going on in the industry. I like reading Eater national – especially their longer form reporting in their more in-depth articles. Anytime there are longer-form stories, I tend to read them – whether they are about food or not.

What kind of food & beverage and/or travel stories do you most enjoy covering?

I will always love covering food & beverage. I feel most comfortable and enjoy telling those stories. I like talking to people and telling their stories about the current restaurant scene in Chicago.

What type of stories do you hope to tell in the future?

I am currently working with a writer on a guide to Milwaukee. I am very excited about that city! I am also always interested in finding out how restaurants repurpose their leftovers since I hate food waste.

What are some of the challenges that writers are facing right now? How can PR pros like us help to make your life easier?

I can’t say this enough – I think publicists are great. Honestly, they are indispensable. To quote Hamilton, they get the job done. They save writers and editors so much time hunting down facts, getting quotes, sourcing photos, and more. Without PR people, it would be really difficult to do anything. I know how much work goes into it and what a struggle the job can be, so I am really appreciative of PR professionals.

Follow Jeffy’s further adventures on Instagram.

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