Lenny is busy, that we know, and his Slovene wireless connection isn't always connected. But here's what we know about his adventures there.
Monday, April 1
Lenny Russo and wife Mega Hoehn headed to Movia Winery (pictured, above, in a photo by Christopher Wurst) where they visited with owner Ales Kristančič (pictured, below; Ales is on the right; photo by Christopher Wurst) who Food & Wine magazine refers to as "the wine genius of Slovenia." The winery has been producing wines for more than three centuries. Russo serves two of the Movia wines at Heartland Restaurant in St. Paul.
Tuesday, April 2
To the markets! Lenny looked for fresh fish and produce for the first dinner he would prepare Wednesday night, in a collaboration with chef Igor Jagodic at Strelec restaurant for embassy guests. He's followed by a camera crew as part of an eight-episode TV series for Slovenia called "Seasoned by Americans," produced by Felina Films.
Shopping was followed by interviews by the Slovene editions of Story and Playboy magazines on farm-to-table food.
In a phone call, Lenny noted that this has been the coldest winter in Slovenia in 50 years, so plans for fishing may be dropped because of the weather.
Every year, the magazine selects 10 chefs who have been in charge of a kitchen for less than five years. This edition of its "Best New Chefs" feature is the magazine's 25th, and Malone is in impressive company, part of a roster that includes such talked-about practitioners as New Yorkers Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food and Alex Stupak of Empellón Cocina, Chris Shepherd of Underbelly in Houston, Michael Voltaggio of Ink in Los Angeles and José Enrique of José Enrique in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Malone is the fifth Minneapolis chef to make the cut over the past quarter century. Others include Stewart Woodman of Heidi's (2006, when he was at the former Five Restaurant & Street Lounge), Seth Bixby Daugherty (2005, from his work at Cosmos), Tim McKee of La Belle Vie (1997, during his tenure at the former D'Amico Cucina) and Tim Anderson of Iven's on the Bay in Brainerd (1991, when he was at the former Goodfellow's).
Look for Malone on Food & Wine's July cover.
Sunday, March 31
Easter dinner was a five-hour meal for Lenny Russo at Evergreen restaurant, nestled in the foothills of the Julian Alps, in Slovenia. There was traditional fare: ham, horseradish and potica, along with Easter eggs.
That was followed by duck confit served atop roasted vegetables. There was also a dandelion salad with bacon, grated egg and a dressing comprised of rendered pork fat with apple cider vinegar.
Dessert was a pistachio cake with raspberry filling. And of course there was plenty of wine.
"Easter brunch was at Evergreen Restaurant which is part of the Kaval Restaurant Group and is located in a huge timber lodge situated on a golf course at the foothills of the Julian Alps. All of the appointments are top notch, and you would have to see it to fully appreciate it. They even have a fully climate controlled glass enclosed curing room for their salumi and prosciutti.
We also enjoyed two Slovenian wines, one a sauvignon blanc and the other a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Needless to say, we needed a long nap afterward.
My Slovenian is coming around rather slowly, but I do have "please", "good day" and "thank you" pretty well down. I am working mostly on pronunciation right now. It's a good thing almost everyone speaks English, and they speak it very well.
We are heading to Movia winery today [Monday] in the Brda wine growing region to taste the wines of Aleš Kastančič for the dinner and meet with his American importers. We are currently pouring two of his wines at Heartland. We will be relying on the superior palate of Mega [Hoehn - wife and co-owner] to help guide us.
Then Igor Jagodic and I will finalize the menu and order the food for the dinner Wednesday at his restaurant Strelec.
We will have dinner at Movia and then head back to Ljubljana. Igor will begin prepping on Tuesday while I meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia, Joseph A. Mussomeli, and give interviews to Story and Playboy magazines. There's a lunch planned somewhere in there as well as a dance performance related to Slovenian "Make a Difference Day." That pretty much rounds out Monday and Tuesday. " -- Lenny Russo
Lenny with Evergreen head chef Anze Gombac (below left).
Last week Lenny Russo, chef-owner of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market, was named to the American Chef Corps. He's in Slovenia for the next two weeks bringing American food to the Slovenians -- and traveling around the country to learn about traditional Slovenian foods. Check in for his frequent updates.
Friday, March 29
"We arrived safely and we are taking the first two days to finalize the plans, which at this point include truffle hunting, turbot fishing, sea salt harvesting, wine tasting, cheesemaking, prosciutto curing, a wine dinner in collaboration with Igor Jagodic, who is the young up and coming Slovenian chef of Strelec Restaurant in Ljubljana Castle and another dinner at the U.S. Embassy here." -- Lenny Russo
Saturday, March 30
"Last night's dinner was at Sarajevo 84 , which is a traditional Bosnian restaurant, where we dined on cevapcici. We also had some fantastic spicy sausages, red bell pepper puree, grilled peppers, fresh farmer's cheese and some cheese and ground spiced meats wrapped in phyllo, which were reminiscent of dolamades. Also, we had some great beer. The red label beer, Union, is the beer of the east while the green label beer, Lasko, is the beer of the west. A Slovenian saying goes like this, "I drink Lasko, but I piss Union." Guess which one I preferred?
Mega and I met with Chef Igor Jagodic of Strelec today. He will be cooking with me at the Wednesday dinner at his restaurant. He's a very interesting guy who spent time in Paris and at Nomo in Denmark. We had to hike up a mountainside in pouring rain to get there (to the castle where the restaurant is, which sits above the city at the highest point). Of course, once we arrived, we discovered the tram that would have carried us there. Even so, the calorie burn was good for us given the meat extravaganza we are celebrating daily. This morning, breakfast was accompanied by mortadella, panna cotto, prosciutto and sopressa.
We will remain in the capitol of Ljubljana until Monday when we head to the wine growing region (Brda). We will be traveling back and forth since the country is only the size of New Jersey, and we are concentrating on only the western half.
Tonight we dined at a fish restaurant called Taverna Tatjana. It is just across the river about a 20-minute walk from where we are staying in the old town. We had whole sea bream. It was cooked plancha style and served tableside very simply with lemon and some good Slovenian olive oil. We also had mangel (beet greens) with potatoes and a cold plate of octopus salad with fish pate and white anchovies served with a hearty blond bread.
We enjoyed a bottle of dry Slovenian Malvasia from Istra which is on the coast and where we will go turbot fishing. We ended the meal with vodka infused with blueberries and a traditional black walnut sweet bread known as potica, which is a yeast dough rolled out and filled with sweet black walnut paste. It is then rolled and wrapped before being cooked." -- Lenny Russo
Call him the ambassador of Minnesota cooking.
Lenny Russo, chef/owner of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul, has been named to the elite American Chef Corps, a culinary partnership with the U.S. State Department, its protocol office and the James Beard Foundation.
The corps links chefs to embassies and foreign audiences where they showcase American culinary traditions and foods. The roster of the chef corps reads like a Who's Who of the culinary world: Jose Andres, Dan Barber, Rick Bayless, John Besh, Cris Comerford (White House chef), Sam Kass (Michelle Obama's food policy advisor), Marcus Samuelsson, and many more.
Last fall when the program was announced in Washington, D.C., then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said via video: "Sharing a meal can help people transcend boundaries and build bridges in a way that nothing else can. Some of the most meaningful conversations I've had with my counterparts around the world have taken place over lunch and dinner."
Lenny's first mission -- which he has clearly accepted, since he's already in Slovenia with many bags of wild rice -- is to showcase Minnesota foods at the U.S. Embassy during his two-week stint in the country. Chef Cassie Parsons of Harvest Moon Grille in Charlotte, N.C., will finish up the monthlong American immersion there. The two will cook at the embassy and travel throughout Slovenia to learn about the traditional ingredients, dishes and preparations (he in the west, she in the east). Felina Films will follow them and produce an eight-episode TV series for Slovenia called "Seasoned by Americans." Much of their travel will be in villages were tourism is uncommon.
The U.S. Embassy in the capitol of Ljubljana, Slovenia, is using a grant from the state department's Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs to fund this effort. This is the first time chefs have been sent overseas under this arts program. Lenny and Cassie were chosen because of their commitment and successful presentation of the farm-to-table philosophy of food. "We wanted chefs who were passionate about what they did, but whose vision and philosophy transcended mere business -- in other words: two progressive chefs who walked the walk," noted the embassy in a press release.
In addition to his work at Heartland, Lenny has been a three-time nominee with the James Beard Foundation and is an outspoken proponent of farm-to-table. In addition, he's active on the Food Literacy Task Force and the Minnesota's Organic Advisory Task Force.
Cassie Parsons's career has gone from farmer to owner of a small food cart in Charlotte to being named Restaurateur of the Year in 2011 by Charlotte magazine. She also is an advocate of sustainable traditional American foods.
Slovenia, a tiny country bordered by Austria, Hungary and Croatia, with Italy off to the west, has little ethnic or religious diversity. It does have some similar ingredients and styles of cooking to that found in America.
Lenny and his wife, Mega Hoehn, co-owner and general manager of Heartland, arrived in Slovenia yesterday. "We are taking the first two days to finalize the plans which at this point include truffle hunting, turbot fishing, sea salt harvesting, wine tasting, cheesemaking, prosciutto curing, a wine dinner in collaboration with Igor Jagodic, who is the young up and coming Slovenian chef of Strelec Restaurant in Ljublana Castle, and another dinner at the U.S. Embassy here," Lenny wrote in an email.
We will hear more from him as he blogs about his experiences in Slovenia. Look for his comments here later next week.
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