There’s no need to wait for Mr. Spanky’s Farm Fresh Artisan Foods to be in season.
But you do need to get to the Plainfield Farmers Market early on a Saturday to buy his bacon, hummus or bread pudding before they sell out.
“I sold out of everything this past weekend by 11 a.m.,” said John Schultz, 29, a Plainfield native nicknamed Spanky since age 8 because he resembled the “short and fat” Little Rascals character.
“I sold 70 pounds of bacon, 30 pounds of breakfast sausage and 100 containers of hummus. I also made 50 dark chocolate-covered pretzel rods coated in bacon bits and sold out of them in an hour.”
Already hooked on Mr. Spanky’s applewood smoked bacon or fire-roasted red pepper hummus or pineapple salsa? Don’t worry about where to find the goods when the farmers market closes at the end of October. The fledgling entrepreneur is creating a mailing list and arranging a Plainfield drop-off site and possible deliveries for year-round satisfaction.
A former executive sous chef for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus who met his wife while riding the rails for nearly three years, Schultz launched Mr. Spanky’s Farm Fresh Artisan Foods earlier this year with encouragement from instructors at Washburne Culinary Institute and his mother, Maureen Wheeler, who owned Capers Charhouse & Pub in Plainfield with her husband/chef Chris Babaniotis.
“I mentioned doing something with the farmers market to my mom and she said, ‘I’ve never had bacon like your bacon,’” Schultz said. “Bacon is big right now. Bacon is on everything.”
He called friends who are high-end chefs around the country and they confirmed bacon would be a hit.
Schultz, who also participates in the Oswego farmers market on Sundays, buys all-natural pork bellies from LaPryor Farms Pork in Ottawa, where the hogs are raised on grain, roam pesticide-free land and are not treated with antibiotics or hormones. He does a dry cure and then smokes the pork “with real wood in a real fire” and hand trims the rhine, “a skill in itself,” he said.
In addition to original back bacon, applewood smoked bacon and breakfast sausage, Schultz also sells cheeses from Ropp Jersey Cheese in Normal, and imported cheeses, such as gouda from the Netherlands and provolone from Italy, that he cold smokes.
For the hummus – chipotle, fire-roasted red pepper or caramelized cipollini onion – Schultz soaks and cooks the beans and treats them with only the finest extra virgin olive oil.
He decided to form a corporation and get his product to consumers through farmers markets because he prides himself on having a personal connection with customers.
“When you go to the supermarket, you don’t know where your peach or bacon comes from,” he said. “Those are questions I can answer. What makes me successful is my honesty. It’s very evident with my customers. I’ll even take people out to the farm. Plus I’m a chef so people can ask for suggestions on what to do with my bacon or hummus.”
Schultz is happy to share a recipe or two (see accompanying recipes). But don’t expect him to share all his secrets, such as the recipe for Mrs. Spanky’s Favorite Bread Pudding, which starts with a fresh French baguette rather than the typical old bread and incorporates custard.
Schultz credits his culinary creativity and enthusiasm with growing up in the restaurant business.
“Family dinners and time with the family were always at the restaurant,” he said. “I always liked cooking, especially grilling. I’d go back in the kitchen and mess around 'cause I had the freedom to do so.”
His mother and her husband Chris Babaniotis, a chef, owned Capers Charhouse & Pub in Plainfield. Today, relatives still have a presence in downtown Plainfield. His aunt Kathleen Hammack owns Bin 48 and his uncle Paul Wheeler is an attorney.
Schultz’s family ties to Plainfield go back some 200 years. His great grandfather started the first bank in Plainfield and was president of the grain elevator.
“Pretty much anybody who’s been in Plainfield a long time will know my family,” Schultz said.
After graduating from Plainfield High School in 2000, Schultz worked the front and back of the house and as assistant manager at Capers. By day, he was an industrial union painter, tackling water towers, chemical plants and skyscrapers in the Chicago area.
A few years later, Schultz saw a classified ad for a cook for the Ringling Bros. circus and spent the next two and a half years traveling to 90 cities and working on a train.
“My parents thought it was perfect, but my friends and roommate said I was nuts,” Schultz said. “Train life is not easy. I worked 70 hours a week cooking all meals for all 350 staff, cooking in one kitchen and transporting food to another, dealing with vendors you see only every two years. If you run out of food and you got a line of 150, you better find something else to make or the lynch mob’s coming for you. And you lived with all those people.”
Schultz learned to cook for circus performers from 30 different countries, from hard workers constantly craving meat and potatoes to Brazilian dancers thriving on fruits and salads. He and another cook, an older Bulgarian woman, mastered moussaka, a Greek lasagna. He took an inexperienced cook from Portland, Ore., under his wing and turned the former vegan into a fried chicken lover.
Schultz also created a monster with his pineapple upside down cake (see accompanying recipe).
“I actually had to stop making it,” he said, “because if we ran out of it, people would petition to corporate.”
Pulling off a giant Southern barbecue for corporate and staff in 100-degree weather in New Orleans is among his favorite circus memories.
But perhaps the highlight of circus life was meeting the future Mrs. Spanky, Xin (pronounced “Sheen”) Yuan Schultz, who was a Chinese-English translator for the circus.
“We fell in love in Las Vegas,” he said. “Two weeks after I met her, I proposed in Phoenix, we got married three months later in Denver and we honeymooned in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, where we had our first date.”
When the couple left the circus, he worked in dietary management positions at several senior communities, including Our Lady of Angels in Joliet. Then they relocated to Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood while she finished earning a master’s degree at Northwestern University.
She handles the Web site and books for Mr. Spanky’s Foods in addition to working as a full-time headhunter in the IT business. He rents kitchen space, does butchering and corns the corned beef for the Irish pub – and plans to create in-house catering - at the Irish American Heritage Center, an 86,000-square-foot building in Chicago featuring a 500-seat ballroom and 650-seat theater.
For more details, visit www.MrSpankys.com or http://www.facebook.com/pages/MrSpankys/187438684641820. To contact Schultz, call (312) 450-3069 or send an email to info@MrSpankys.com.
The Plainfield Farmers Market is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, rain or shine, through October at the southwest corner of Lockport Street and Route 59.
Mr. Spanky’s Bacon, Bleu Cheese and Beer Potato Salad
2.5-3 lbs. red potatoes
6 slices of bacon or more
4 scallions or spring onions
1/2 cup beer (Pale Ale is great)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons spicy brown mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper
1 cup bleu cheese
Wash potatoes and chop into bite-size pieces. Place in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are fork tender. While you are waiting for the potatoes to come to a boil, cook the bacon and let cool. Chop your onion (use whites and greens) and bacon. In the bottom of your serving bowl, combine beer, mayonnaise, mustard and garlic powder, and add hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste. When the potatoes are done, drain and add to the beer mixture. Add onions, bacon and blue cheese. Combine and serve.
Tips: Always use red potatoes they are high in starch and moisture which allow them to hold their shape. Always start potatoes in cold water. Hard boiled eggs can be added to this recipe if desired.
Mr. Spanky’s Circus Train Pineapple Upside Down Cake
1 ½ cups dark brown sugar
1 stick melted butter
1 can (20 oz.) pineapple slices (Reserve the juice)
Maraschino cherries as needed (about 10)
Making Cake Batter (Follow my Directions Not the Instructions on the Box)
1 Box Betty Crocker Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix
¾ cup reserved pineapple juice
½ cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
***13”x9” cake pan (I prefer a Pyrex baking dish but any pan will do; no greasing is needed as the butter in the recipe will be sufficient.)
*** Also a board or sheet pan that fits over the top to flip the cake onto after baking
1) Preheat oven to 350. Place brown sugar in bottom of pan and pat down on the bottom of pan as if you were working with pie dough. You want to create a base for the cake. If you need a little more sugar, go ahead and add it.
2) After your sugar is patted down, pour the butter evenly over the sugar. Have a spoon handy and use the back of it to spread it around, paying careful attention not to break up the packed-down sugar. (Sometimes you need a little more butter if you used more sugar.)
3) Place pineapple rings on top of brown sugar, and then place cherries in the center of the pineapple rings.
4) Mix all cake batter ingredients well, and pour directly over brown sugar and pineapple top. (Again be very careful not to disturb the topping. It will ruin the cake!)
5) Place in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
6) (This is the most crucial step in making a great cake!) Immediately after you take the cake out of the oven, place the sheet pan over the top of the pan, with oven mitts on, grab the bottom of the cake pan with your right hand and the top of the sheet pan with your left holding it together very tight! Hold your breath and flip it over. Don’t hesitate or change your mind in the middle. You can get burned or even worse ruin your cake! Lift up the cake pan and admire the beauty!
Tips: Don’t be intimidated. This is a very easy recipe. The flip must be done as soon as it comes out of the oven. If you wait, it will be a sticky mess.