Mike Phillips, chef at Craftsman in Minneapolis, is making a big career transition. More like a graduation, actually. During the past several years he has burnished his reputation as the city's top maker of preserved pork products: salamis, cured hams and other Italian-inspired charcuterie. Now that beloved side of his work is going to become his full-time passion. Yesterday he and restaurateur/pub tycoon/bon vivant Kieran Folliard announced their partnership in Green Ox Foods.

"Our short-term objective in partnership with Mike is to produce locally-sourced, specialty meats, some unique and some a superior quality of such pub staples as our bacon, ham and sausage," said Folliard in a statement. "Our long-term objective is to develop Green Ox into a brand that gives our region an artisan food product with far-ranging retail distribution."

Folliard is the driving force behind Cara Irish Pubs, which operates the Local, Kieran's Irish Pub and the Old Pub in downtown Minneapolis, the Liffey in downtown St. Paul and Cooper Irish Pub in St. Louis Park.

I spoke with Phillips and asked him about his hopes for this new venture, his transition from chef to full-time charcuterie maker and the effect his job switch will have on bicycling, another one of his passions.

Q: How did this all come about?

A: Kieran had this idea, doing this sausage thing. He and Steven Brown [formerly of the Local, Levain and Porter & Frye] have been friends for many years, and they were talking about this idea, and Steven said, 'You need to meet Mike Phillips.' And that was that. He came to me in January or February, and we had many conversations about what was lacking in our food identity here. He really liked my ideas.

It seems like a natural fit, and that it will work synergistically. The pubs can use the whole animal, and we need an anchor customer, we need cash flow. We'll be producing sausage, bacon and ham for the five pubs, and help them bring some local identity to what they're doing. We can add to their menus too. I've been playing around with a pork pie that we can serve in all the pubs. It's a traditional Irish thing, and it could be a great identifier for all of the pubs. I'm a partner in Green Ox Foods, and a consultant to Cara Irish Pubs, and I'm happy about both of those things.

Q: That cured-meats class you took a few years ago at Iowa State University is really paying off, isn't it?

A: I'm still paying for it, but it's paying off [laughs]. That was a good thing.

Q: Where is your base of operations going to be?

A: For now, I'll be working out of the kitchen at the Local. We'll introduce some menu items there, test some things, figure out what works. In the meantime, we'll also be looking for physical space, a common kitchen for all the pubs as well as a space for dry cured meats processing. The hunt is on for that space, so that'll be part of the job. It's exciting.

Q: Are you thinking about a retail side to the business?

A: That's the thing. Right now at the Craftsman, people are always asking, 'Where can we buy this?' I can't wait to say, 'Go to Surdyk's, or Lunds, or Byerly's. Who knows? Maybe we'll have a retail component of our own sometime down the road, or maybe a meat counter inside the pubs. We'll have to see how that all works out.

Q: What's the story behind the Green Ox name?

A: That's interesting. It's a name that Kieran had been thinking about for a long time. He understood the need to signify a very regional Minnesota product. The ox is a nod to Babe the Blue Ox, and the green is a nod to both sustainability and to his Irish tradition and to the pubs' Irish tradition. It doesn't have a pig in the name, but it's a good name nonetheless.

Q: Kieran Folliard, locavore. Who would have thought?

A: [Laughs]. It came out of left field for me, but the more I get to know him, I get it. This is important to him, and he wants to make it happen, so his attitude is, let's move it forward and make it happen.

Q: So when do you start?

A: My last day at the Craftsman is on the 18th. I'm helping move my mom up to Grand Marais, and I've got a Tour de Farm dinner on the 22nd. Then on the 23rd I go down to the Local. I'm excited to get down there and get going. I want to try and get some items on the fall menu for the pubs. I'd like to produce their breakfast sausage and some other pork products. I'm looking forward to the next step, of finally producing some regional products.

Q: Is there going to be pickling in your future?

A: I'd really like to continue with that. I actually gave Kieran some pickles the other night, to get him thinking about it. Fermented pickles go hand in hand with cured meats. They would go very well at the pubs, and even a retail component somewhere down the line. The pubs are already doing Reubens, and if you're doing the corned beef, why not also do the sauerkraut? Although I hope not to get spread too thin. It's good to have focus. All I want to do in life is make salami, but I have to do a bunch of things to get there.

Q: That coppa that you've been making is pretty fantastic.

A: It's such a cool product. I never expected that one to be what it was, I just played around with it, and that's the home run out of the bunch. I can see it being used in so many ways. I've used it in cooking applications. I've cut the ends up and put it into sauces, or I wrap things in it, a la Tim McKee at La Belle Vie, that coppa-crusted rabbit loin, I just love that stuff. Or just slice it thin and have it on a sandwich, that would be great.

Q: I'm also a big fan of your rabbit terrine.

A: I've been wondering if we could produce a cooked product like that for all the pubs. I think that maybe during the fourth meeting that I had with Kieran, he gave me a copy of Colman Andrews' Irish cookbook. I've been looking at it and seeing that their meat tradition -- pork pies, rabbit terrines -- really fits with what I'd like to do.

Q: What are your thoughts on making the transition from restaurant chef to full-time charcuterie maker?

A: I don't quite know, but I have a whole family at home that's going to have to get used to having me around [laughs]. I imagine there's going to be a whole lot of, 'And who are you?' Kidding aside, it's going to be fantastic, we're all looking forward to it. It'll be nice to not have such a night-focused lifestyle. Our kids are 11, 9 and 4, and they're getting to an age where they're getting involved in activities at night. I made it to a few baseball games this summer, but I missed most of them because I was working. I'm also looking forward to going out on a date with my wife once in a while. That'll be odd [laughs]. But who knows? I might get to cook on the line at the pubs now and then.

Q: You're a pretty serious bicyclist. How is the job change going to affect your bicycling?

A: That's a good question, and I've pondered that, a lot. I hope to be able to work it in as much as I can. It's nice being a chef, because you go into work at about 11 or 12, after you've had an hour or two of training. I don't know where I'm going to get it in, maybe I'll have to get up at four in the morning [laughs]. I'm so used to going to a race on Saturdays, doing a 70- or 80-mile race and then going to work while everyone else goes home and lays on the couch [laughs]. So that'll be different. That'll be fun.

Q: You've been at Craftsman for five years. Does the restaurant have a Mike Phillips cured meats stockpile, in case diners want to get a taste of it before you leave?

A: The inventory isn't going to last long, it's going to depend upon how it's used. The hams don't belong to the Craftsman, I have them at a different warehouse. I cure them and they're for sale, and we buy most of them at the Craftsman, but they're still around. The salami will be all gone, there's a little coppa left, and whatever cooked product is left will be left to whomever is at the Craftsman. The Craftsman will need to recreate itself. It's time for them to change their identity, to renew themselves and come up with something different, that's what usually happens when a chef leaves.