Master’s degree in religion, check. Dissertation for a doctoral degree (involving ethnographic study of people raised in the fundamentalist Christian tradition who ultimately broke away from it through arts intervention), check. Organic sandwich cart, check.On Tuesday afternoons this summer, a hungry crowd convenes just outside Harvard’s Science Center, waiting patiently in front of a small white cart on wheels for mouthwatering grilled sandwiches.Customers mill about near the Tanner Fountain rock garden in anticipation of tasty treats such as the Renegade (made with pepper jack cheese, baby arugula, and heirloom tomatoes), the Gouda Afternoon (a combination of Gouda cheese, avocado, and cilantro), or the Elvis (peanut butter, sliced bananas, with a side of Somerville’s own marshmallow Fluff and, as the menu states, “a chance to commune with ‘the King’ ”).Lefty’s Silver Cart is the work of Philip Francis, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School with an affinity for profound reflection, and for produce. His model is simple: Create gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, using locally grown and developed products, and a helping of good humor.“It’s grilled sandwiches by day and Nietzsche by night,” said Francis, who hopes to defend his thesis this fall and begin looking for a job as a professor.The Maine native started operating the cart after an intense period of study following his general exams prior to his dissertation. Living with books night and day, he said, left him wanting “to hit my thumb with a hammer a few times and become grounded again, and this cart was just a great chance.”A popular staple at the Farmers’ Market at Harvard, Lefty’s has been a regular repeat vendor since 2007. The cart got its start at the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn, N.Y., the same year, but soon branched out to a variety of music festivals and local farmers’ markets.“It’s food by nomads for nomads. I’m drawn to the carnival, on-the-road feeling. I like being in a self-contained unit that can pick up and move,” said Francis.Dara Olmsted, food literacy project coordinator and market manager of Harvard’s Hospitality & Dining Services, loves the diversity that Lefty’s contributes to the Farmers’ Market at Harvard and the fact that Francis buys many of his sandwich fixings there.“He shops at the market for a lot of his produce, which supports our farmers,” she said. “People regularly ask when the cart will be back. He is very popular.”In a nod to the market, Francis is sure to give his sandwich ingredients top billing.He notes on his menu that his cucumbers come from Lanni Orchards, his mozzarella from Fiore di Nonno, and his Gouda from Narragansett Creamery, all regular vendors at the market. For his popular banana chocolate smoothie (made on a bike-powered blender), Francis uses chocolate from Taza Chocolate, a local manufacturer. Satisfied diners only have to walk a few steps to the nearby stalls to find more of the same ingredients that they can buy and bring home.“That was the idea, to build this kind of synergistic thing between us and the farmers, and it has been great. The farmers love having us. I think it brings a little more festiveness to the market, and it draws people in,” he said.When he decided to enter the business, jumping on what he felt was an emerging, “hip trend” in food carts, he went to the one place he knew he would find exactly what he was seeking: eBay.Francis was close to purchasing a cart with a serious pedigree, one rumored to have toured with the Grateful Dead in the ’70s, but got priced out in a heated bidding war. Instead, he settled on a retired kettle corn cart belonging to a couple in Vermont. With a few adjustments, it was ready to go, as was Francis, who admitted that getting the business up and running has been largely a process of trial and error, much like his newest addition to the operation, the bicycle blender.On Friday, rigged to a cobalt blue Space Rider tricycle next to his cart was the top half of a blender filled with fruit, juice, and ice. Keeping a hand on the blender top, Francis set a steady pace on the three-wheeled bike to mix the concoction. A quick taste test revealed large ice cubes still intact.“It just doesn’t quite have the power,” he said. “We need to work on the interface.”Restaurant work runs in his family, and helps inform his operating ethos. His grandfather ran a diner in Connecticut.
For anyone who’s ever watched the weekly videos produced by Herald Sports about the upcoming football games (which can be found on the Badger Herald YouTube channel, among plenty of other goodies), I think we can all say that being on camera really brings out the awkwardness in me quite well.Just like the days in Spanish class when I’d be called on to speak. The time I got “excito” confused with “emocionado” is a fond one in hindsight. That was awkward.So from the perspective of someone not adept at speaking in front of people or a camera with ease, I’m impressed at how enthusiastic Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is about stepping in front of the bright lights.And from the perspective of everyone else, I’m impressed at Bielema’s enthusiasm because it seems like he’s working hard to increase the media exposure at Wisconsin.There’s been an avalanche of attention given to Wisconsin for about a year now, beginning (sourly) with criticisms of unsportsmanlike conduct against Minnesota last season and burgeoning with the defeat of a No. 1-ranked team and, later, a Rose Bowl bid.Then in the offseason, the Badgers landed a dual-threat, transfer quarterback who has become a legitimate candidate for the Heisman Trophy. And right now, the team is arguably on a better five-game start than any of UW’s past four Rose Bowl teams.The Badgers are also sitting pretty at No. 4 in the Coaches Poll and the Harris Poll, which, together, make up two-thirds of the BCS standings.National exposure is a natural byproduct of winning – specifically winning big, important matches (i.e. Ohio State, Nebraska). However, all the media access requests that come in between games are avoidable, and you don’t see Bielema trying to shelter anybody.Bielema spent the Friday of his bye week in Bristol, Conn., headquarters of ESPN, to engage with reporters and anchors for a full nine hours. SportsCenter, College Football Live, the Scott Van Pelt Show and ESPN the Magazine are just some of the ESPN incarnations he met with.This comes after Bielema allowed ESPN cameras to document the Badgers’ fall camp for a program called “Depth Chart” and, last spring, he was one of four college coaches to join the NFL Network’s broadcast of the college football draft as a guest analyst.He’s also letting others into the spotlight as well. In the week leading up to the South Dakota game, Bielema allowed Sports Illustrated to conduct an exclusive story on the offensive line while this past week, Russell Wilson also appeared on one of the best sports programs out there, Pardon the Interruption.It would be hard to match the ubiquitous nature of traditional powers like Texas, Alabama and Ohio State – teams that will make national news just by virtue of who they are – but I think Bielema wants Wisconsin to be a staple in the media. He doesn’t want to miss any opportunities of having people see and talk about the Badgers.Although the football team is well-known, Wisconsin is still behind plenty of schools in coast-to-coast prominence.It’s taken a Rose Bowl, top-5 rankings and a Heisman candidate to get Wisconsin in the major headlines. Meanwhile, you have schools like Notre Dame, where SportsCenter will occasionally check to see if the Fighting Irish are good again, only to say, “Nope, not yet. What about Michigan”?Wisconsin can benefit directly from attention similar to that. Consistent, national attention can make recruiting all the more easy when potential student-athletes from outside of Wisconsin and the Midwest grow up seeing the “motion-W” and Bielema’s face leading news outlets.Athletes always talk about the teams, coaches and players they grew up watching and reading about. It creates a connection – maybe you could even call it a “soft spot” – and the less introduction a football program needs when meeting a recruit of high value, the better.There are also no indications that Bielema is getting too caught up in the attention, either. Last Tuesday, he said ESPN came to him with the idea of going out to Bristol (not the other way around) and when Sports Illustrated came calling, he made sure the interviews were conducted in the week leading up to South Dakota, not Nebraska.Could he have been recruiting when he was in Bristol? Maybe. Last Tuesday, he detailed his coaching staff’s plans for the week, saying all of a possible nine recruiters were active, but that most of the year’s efforts were already done. According to Bielema, it’s a time of the year when high school sophomores and juniors (where there’s less urgency) start to shift into focus.Either way, it was one day he spent on the ESPN campus, not the entire bye week. And the more Bielema answers the door when ESPN and others come knocking, the better.Elliot is a senior majoring in journalism. Have you noticed how much Bielema welcomes the national attention to Wisconsin? Send him an email and tell him about it at [email protected] or tweet @BHeraldSports.