Home-cooked spiel

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

By day, Jim Ellison is a liaison among suppliers, employees and administrators for the State of Ohio. After five, he's the CMH Gourmand, whose connections to the food world go far beyond his popular dining blog.

Name: Jim Ellison

Age: 39

Job: Professional relations officer, Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission

Alma mater: M.I.L.S., Kent State University; B.A., Ohio State University

Neighborhood: Clintonville

Hometown: Columbus

Web: cmhgourmand.wordpress.com

Before I was a food writer, I started making my own food guide for friends. I'd give it out at birthdays and holidays. I had reviews of places I liked, little hand-drawn maps for how to get there. This was my compiled knowledge at the time.

I've worked on two books, but both of those [publishing] companies went out of business. The first one was a book on pizza, but it got assigned to someone else who was more experienced about a fourth of the way into it. I was working on another book about regional sandwiches all over the country.

The best bet for a quintessential Columbus sandwich is the slider. You know, we've got White Castle, which is based here, and a lot of restaurants in town are kind of doing their own versions of the slider.

One time in Chicago, I ate 10 Italian beef sandwiches in eight hours. My friend Andy, who moved up there, was my designated driver. In Chicago, there's literally more hot dog/Italian beef stands than McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's combined.

Trying to pick my favorite food is like trying to pick your favorite kid. Ultimately, it's cheese or anything with cheese on it.

Probably the worst thing I've ever eaten was ants and bugs in Australia.

The secret to a great meal is good service. And, I think, atmosphere is [key], too - just feeling comfortable and laid-back. Like Alana's, you can walk in there in jeans, T-shirt, whatever and not feel out of place when you're sitting next to a guy that's in a suit.

The first real article I published was my ice cream article for Ohio magazine in '98. I spent the whole summer driving all over Ohio, visiting all these place to come up with what I thought the best places would be. It was great.

At home, my specialty is chili. I make all types of exotic chilies. I've got my Chupacabra Chili, which is goat. That's pretty popular. I do food parties at my house, too. I usually have a chili contest once a year, a hot dog party.

Columbus has a really great food culture that is something to be proud of. We just don't promote it that well. A lot of people who live here don't know about it. People who live outside of town do.

My two indulgences in life are travel and food. Everything is socked away in the bank. I drive an 11-year-old car.

My favorite place to travel to is Australia. I've been there six times. I've got a lot of friends over there. I actually tried to emigrate there a couple years ago unsuccessfully. Unfortunately, they don't have a need for government bureaucrats or food bloggers.

I am a Kansas City Barbecue Society Certified Barbecue Judge. It's one of those things where it's like, "How do people get to do that?" One of my coworkers, she and her husband do it. The class is literally four hours of barbecuing, 15 to 20 minutes of classroom instruction and then the rest of it is eating barbecue.