The Midwest will be getting the spotlight as our Minnesota writer Amy Thielen heads to the Food Network in a six-episode program,"Heartland Table." The show debuts on Sept. 14 at 9:30 a.m. (just following the network's "The Pioneer Woman."
Amy, whose stories in the Star Tribune Taste section won a James Beard award, also has a new cookbook, that will be published the end of September. "The New Midwestern Table," focuses on regional traditions, from fish frys to booyah and braunschweiger.
Find out more about both next week in Taste.
Update: Here's the interview with Amy that appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of the Star Tribune Taste section.
I've been pretty lucky in my eating and cooking experiences. Through our sustainable food-focused web series, we've gotten to travel the U.S. and the world meeting incredible people, tasting street food and Michelin dining alike. It's a dream job, but still, this weekend was special.
For those unfamiliar, MAD means "food" in Danish and for the last three years, Rene Redzepi and his team at the formerly heralded "best restaurant in the world" (recently placed as the second best) have been putting on THE culinary conference. It's a "for cooks, by cooks" event, so no demos, no big sponsors, no paying hand and foot for bite sized portions from different restaurants. You come to MAD to learn... and to eat.
We came to do just that -- and also to speak at the event and show some of our films -- which we were super honored and amazed to be a part of. But let's start with the eating, because that's what most of my photos (all on the iPhone) entail.
An hour from the time we landed in Denmark, we were sitting at a table at Noma. I'm not going to rub it in, but the restaurant deserves all the acclaim it gets and then some -- not only for the food, but also for service that is unparalleled. The staff is like a cult (a good one) that wants you to be a member, and you happily drink the Kool-Aid, or as is the case at Noma, the wild sorrel-aid.
After 24 courses and a good night's sleep, we woke up Friday morning, and (along with the 30+ other individuals speaking at the event) we were whisked off to the small Danish Island of Bornholm for a day of bonding on the beach. It didn't hurt that the organizers had set up a room full of wild produce, as well as a pig and a lamb for some of the best chefs in the world to cook up for dinner. Imagine Alex Atala, David Kinch, David Chang, Pascal Barbot and the Franks from Frankies (all speakers at the event) cooking you a BBQ overlooking the Baltic sea, with flowing natural wine. I know, I'm bragging again.
The next morning the conference began, but not before Copenhagen's best coffee roasters treated the crowd to the fanciest coffee you've seen. Pour over, cold press, machiatto, the choice was yours. Caffeinated to the max, we entered the circus tent where over the next two days we were to experience an amazing array of talks.
But first, there hung a dead pig, right in the middle of the tent for all to see. Blood ran from its neck. As the crowd came in, snapping their instagrams and imagining what would come next, we took our seats, Mirra shielding her vegetarian eyes. Then ACDC blared and in came Dario Cecchini -- Tuscan butcher extraordinaire. The crowd cheered. I felt sick. Maybe it's Mirra's animal loving spirit that overcame me, but the splitting open of this recently alive animal to the sound of cheers and rock and roll seemed a bit disrespectful. But the music stopped, the guts had been spilled, and Dario began to speak.
From that moment, he won us over, he jumped into his love of animals, the respect he has, the need to honor a slaughtered beast. It was dramatic, it was romantic and as he cut open the pig, he waxed poetic about being a butcher. "We are losing our race..." he declared. He was preaching the butcher gospel, and he ended with a minute long recitation of Dante. A stunning way to start the event that made me twice as nervous for my impending talk.
I can't go into all of the speakers like that, as there were too many, and they were all so good. Really, as far as conferences go, my expectations are usually pretty low. But here they had speakers like nowhere else. To run through a few:
Vandana Shiva: The anti-Gmo anti-pesticide activist from India who we covered in a recent video. She shared her story and challenged the world's best chefs to adopt GMO free menus.
Ahmed Jama: A Somali chef and refugee in London, who moved back to Mogadishu to open a restaurant in support of rebuilding his country. The restaurant has been bombed twice, killing 6 of his staff. He is currently rebuilding again.
Martha Payne: An 11- year old from Scotland who became famous for her blog that posted pictures of her school lunch to the shame of the school board. As a result of her blog, she's raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for children's school lunches in Malawi.
Sandor Katz: The author of "The Art of Fermentation" has given sauerkraut inspiration to thousands and made us rethink our relationship to bacteria.
These were just a few of the dozens of speakers that shared their take on "guts." In between the speakers there was food by a group of Lebanese women, who were Christians, Jews and Arabs. This trip to Denmark was the first time any of them had been out of their native country. Besides their peaceful coexistence philosophy, they made delicious baba ganoush, flatbread with zatar and lambs testicles.
The next day Mission Chinese from San Francisco and New York City burned everyone's mouths with their MaPo Tofu and Cumin Lamb. The Szechuan peppercorns and endless chiles gave pleasure and pain to the northern European clientele.
The first night consisted of a secret after-party complete with a pop-up dinner on the street from David Chang and the rest of the Momofuku team who made their famous bo-ssam. We spent the following two days trying out some new and acclaimed restaurants (Amass and Bror) headed by recent alums of Noma (Matt Orlando and Samuel Nutter/Victor Wagman, respectively), and stopped by our old favorites Relae and Manfreds (also by a Noma alum, Christian Puglisi), and our favorite wine bar, Ved Stranden.
We were reminded, time and time again, of the kindness, generosity and community created by Noma and the people from whence it came. They made us feel a part of the family. I applaud team Noma and team MAD for such an incredible and mind bending event. I hope to go again next year.
For a group of chefs who are sort-of without a restaurant at the moment, the crew at Travail Kitchen and Amusements sure manages to keep busy.
First things first: On Saturday, co-owners Bob Gerken, Mike Brown and James Winberg (pictured, above, left to right, in a Star Tribune file photo) “are going to throw this little street dance thing” said Brown.
It's taking place in the parking lot at Pig Ate My Pizza, the don’t-miss Robbinsdale pizzeria that the trio launched in May in the former Travail space; a newer, larger Travail is under construction a few doors down the block, a subject we’ll get to in a moment.
“We’re hoping to get a few hundred people,” said Brown. The plan is to lure them by “making everything super-cheap, and family-friendly,” he said.
It’s going to be a two-buck kind of party: The necessary wrist band (to satisfy the alcohol police) will cost $2, and most of the food (“Travail dogs,” sweet corn, a barbecued pulled pork sandwich and yuzu, watermelon and vanilla Dippin’ Dots-style ice cream) will also clock in at $2, with beer in the $4 to $6 range. Entertainment will be karaoke, backed up with a live three-piece band equipped with a 200-strong song set, with the festivities scheduled to run from 2 to 8 p.m.
The Travailians aren’t just throwing a street dance for the heck of it, although that actually sounds like something they’d do. Instead, they’re using the event as an informal kickoff (if this were a political primary, it would probably be called it a “listening tour”) for a $120,000 crowdfunding campaign that they plan to formally launch on Sept. 3.
No, they won’t be taking money on Saturday, but they will be collecting names of interested parties, and the first 200 names walk away with a free T-shirt (pictured, below).
The crowdfunding campaign is aimed at filling a funding gap between the financing that has been secured for Travail 2.0 and the cost for building out the space of their dreams.
“It’s going to determine whether or not Travail is going to be what we want it to be,” said Brown. “We just want it to be the best that it can possibly be.”
The ownership team has decided to steer clear of entering into partnerships, silent or otherwise. “We feel that there are probably investors out there, but that’s not what we do,” said Brown. “We can’t have outside influences.”
Instead, crowdfunding. They’re offering some fairly unorthodox incentives for those who might want to toss some cash into the pile. For those considering contributing a modest amount, the crew is producing what is destined to become a talker. Brown labels it the “sexy Travail calendar,” a takeoff on the muscle-bound St. Paul Firefighters calendar, only with chefs, including a few cameos culled from local A-list kitchens (their identities shall, for the moment, remain nameless).
For those pondering a heftier participation – we’re talking in the thousands here -- benefits could include private parties or the ability to secure unlimited reservations for a year at a wildly popular restaurant that doesn’t accept reservations.
Not to bury the lede – come on, there’s a lot of ground to cover here – but another dough-raising effort involves the launch of a pop-up restaurant, one with a little staying power. Over the summer, the Travailians been offering one-time events on idle nights in kitchens across the Twin Cities, but this enterprise is more ambitious.
The hope is to open on Sept. 11 and keep cooking through mid-October, if not into early November; the schedule will depend upon the progress at the Travail construction site, since the project’s tight budget relies upon a number of time-consuming do-it-yourself elements.
The location? Minneapolis’ restaurant-starved north side, inside a recently rehabbed chain outlet near Broadway Av. and Dupont. Av. N. The 45-seat operation will focus on Asian street food, “which really is the best food, ever,” said Brown.
No name yet. “I feel weird giving something an Asian name, because I’m not Asian,” said Brown with a laugh. “Anyway, it’s only going to be around for two months, so what the hell does it matter what we call it?”
They’d better decide quickly, if the doors are going to open in three weeks. Rather than accepting reservations, the trio plans to sell tickets to seatings, via an online ticket service.
“But we also want to connect with the neighborhood, so if someone wants to come in for takeout, we’ll do takeout,” said Brown. “I just hope to god that it all works out, because we have a lot of great people shining light on it.”
On Aug. 14, the field will be narrowed to the Top 10 restaurants.
To see the 48 other best restaurants, check out the magazine site at bonappetit.com.
The list was compiled by Andrew Knowlton, restaurant and drinks editor at the magazine.
Hail to the chef!
Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul joined other members of the U.S. State Department’s American Chef Corps at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., last week for a reception honoring global culinary leaders. Among the participants were those chefs who cooked for heads of state worldwide.
“There was no politics,” said Russo after the event, as he was dining -- and networking -- at Equinox in D.C., with several fellow chef corps members, where they enjoyed a six-course meal from Todd Gray. “All I heard was food and wine.
"The camaraderie was exceptional," he said.
"A person could be from the other side of the world and yet we had a common bond. We give sustenance, and that’s how we relate to people."
Russo spent two weeks in Slovenia on a cultural exchange with the U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana. Find out more about his time in Slovenia at www.startribune.com/chefcorps.
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