From Alaska to Texas, Michael Curry has cooked a lot of different foods in a lot of different kitchens. In settings ranging from coffee shop to fine dining, he’s both taken and given the orders, working virtually every role possible, including executive chef.
Curry also has his Master of Business Administration, which came in handy a few years ago when he was living in Southeast Kansas where restaurant jobs weren’t easy to come by. His solution was to start his own catering business, and through Lil’ Bubba, Curry served a lot of barbecue at weddings and graduations.
The business was put on hold, though, when he moved to Kansas City. He shifted his focus back to other people’s kitchens, including Hamburger Mary’s. In 2011, the grueling hours the industry is known for caught up with Curry in the form of a pneumonia diagnosis and doctors’ orders that he didn’t take to heart.
“Getting sick in the restaurant industry can sometimes wind you up looking for another job,” he says. “My employer at the time said that I could take time off to recuperate but I would likely not have a job to come back to. So, foolishly, I kept working. Long story short, after suffering acute respiratory failure and after spending two months in the ICU on life support and with tubes in my chest, I decided that I wasn’t going to work for someone who didn’t value me again. So, Lil’ Bubba went through a kind of metamorphosis and I began selling my take on artisan baked goods and sundry items.”
Starting with friends, Curry’s customer list has been growing steadily, with some of his small batch experiments, including pickled and fermented produce and limited runs of bacon and sausage, selling out within hours of being available. The offerings change with the seasons and depend on what Curry can get from his network of small farmers.
“I try to take a sort of punk approach to bringing together quality wholesome ingredients, a little food science, my obvious deep love of food and a unique spin on old ideas as well a good few new ones.”
When inspiration hits, Curry is apt to stay up all night playing with a new recipe.
“I like to tinker in my lab, or ‘kitchen’ as most call it,” he says. “If you saw my clipboards you’d think I was some lunatic scientist with all the scribbles and calculations written in script only I can seem to read.”
Currently, you pretty much have to know Curry to get your mouth on his Tellicherry Rye Peppercorn Bacon, Volker Levain Boule or other creations. But that’s all about to change.
Lil’ Bubba was recently accepted into local startup accelerator BetaBlox [disclosure: Wiebe is also a member of the BetaBox program], and Curry aims to get his products on store shelves and into local farmers’ markets yet this summer. There could even be a food truck a little further down the road.
“Right now I’m developing charcuterie kits to go into local stores,” he says. “Imagine adult Lunchables, only you can pronounce all the ingredients and the cheese actually tastes like cheese.”
For Curry, it’s beyond exciting to see Lil’ Bubba growing up right here and right now.
“I never had the confidence in my city or the economy, like I do here in Kansas City, to start my own business. There is just a passion about food here, and a titanic entrepreneurial spirit. This is also the only place I’ve ever truly felt at home and I’ve lived in so many places it’s ridiculous.”[Images via Facebook: Lil’ Bubba]