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.
Time to stock your shelves with a new cookbook or two. The James Beard Foundation announced its winners Friday for its annual competition.
Cookbook of the Year: "Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America," by Maricel E. Presilla (W.W. Norton & Company)
Cookbook Hall of Fame: Anne Willan, for the whole of her cookbook authorship, which includes 30 books
American Cooking: "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking," by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart (Gibbs Smith)
Baking and Dessert: Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza," by Ken Forkish (Ten Speed Press)
Beverage: Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours," by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and José Vouillamoz (Ecco)
Cooking from a Professional Point of View: "Toqué! Creators of a New Quebec Gastronomy," by Normand Laprise (les éditions du passage)
Focus on Health: "Cooking Light The New Way to Cook Light—Fresh Food & Bold Flavors for Today’s Home Cook," by Scott Mowbray and Ann Taylor Pittman (Oxmoor House)
General Cooking: "Canal House Cooks Every Day," by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer (Andrews McMeel)
International: "Jerusalem: A Cookbook," by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press)
Photography: "What Katie Ate: Recipes and Other Bits & Pieces," Photographer: Katie Quinn Davies (Viking Studio)
Reference and Scholarship: "The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World," by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green Publishing)
Single Subject: "Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard," by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed Press)
Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian: "Roots: The Definitive Compendium with More Than 225 Recipes," by Diane Morgan (Chronicle Books)
Writing and Literature: "Yes, Chef: A Memoir," by Marcus Samuelsson (Random House)
For a complete list of all the James Beard awards, go to http://www.jamesbeard.org/awards.
See the earlier posting of cookbook winners in the competition by theInternational Association of Culinary Professionals.
The kangaroo steaks sold out last night, the first time they were on the menu at Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis and, as far as we know, in the Twin Cities ever.
Executive chef Joe Wuestenhagen added it to the menu after extensive testing showed that diners would like it.
"I thought he was joking," said co-owner Cynthia Gerdes as she remembered her surprise at the suggestion of serving the 'roo. Then she headed to the Internet to do some research on the meat and found that it was considered to be both healthful and to have a lower environmental impact. "Greenpeace has endorsed more kangaroo consumption," she said.
That's because the 'roo is not a farmer friendly animal."These are animals that are ruining Australia's lands. Farmers are shooting them," Cynthia said."I never researched a food so much in my life. We don't put an item on the menu to gain some ink," she said.
The upside of kangaroo: No methane gases from the animals (unlike for cattle). They don't damage soil, because they don't have hooves. All-organic meat, as these are wild. The meat is lean.
The downside: People think of kangaroo as a cuddly creature.
"Some people might give us a little backlash, or a lot. That's why I had to think this through," said Cynithia. "In a perfect world, no one would eat meat. But they do eat it. And it's a huge part of restaurants' menus."
She noted that when bison was first introduced to the Hell's Kitchen menu 11 years ago, many restaurant owners raised their eyebrows about that. Bison? Who would eat that? Now it's de rigueur on many menus.
So how does kangaroo taste? (And no, it's not like chicken.) The restaurant reports that the meat has a beefy, slightly sweet and smoky flavor.
"We didn't know how well this would be received, but sold out in one night? This took us totally by surprise," she said.
Initially they are preparing the kangaroo only as steaks. "Our purpose is to get people to try it on the menu," said Cynthia.
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