Eyes on the pies: Five chefs rise to challenge

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2007 - 7:41 PM

The movement to support sustainable agriculture finds community, along with creativity, in a nationwide bus tour.

No matter whether you hew to Eden or the Big Bang, the fact remains that humans weren't around to witness the act of creation. So we go to cooking competitions.

There's something about the unrolled dough, the unsliced apple, the possibilities inspired by duck eggs, caramels, bacon and goat cheese that attracts a crowd such as the recent one at the Mill City Farmers Market.

In that particular case, they also came for the politics.

The Sustainable Table bus tour rolled into Minneapolis as part of its 38-city "Eat Well" mission to educate consumers about food that can be raised without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, without massive amounts of water, without being trucked thousands of miles, without stressing out livestock.

The tour sponsored its "Pie Across America" contest at the Mill City Market because of its vendors' focus on local, sustainable and organic foods. The challenge for the five chefs was to make a pie, sweet or savory, from what they could find at the market that morning.

Scott Pampuch, chef at the Corner Table in Minneapolis, where local sourcing is a guiding ethic, came back laden with duck eggs, thyme, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, ricotta, onions, peppers and mozzarella for two different quiches.

He earned the "What th-?" award for deftly dropping two duck egg yolks, bright as marigolds, atop his finished potato-bacon quiche, then returning it to the oven for several minutes.

"One of the things I run into with quiche is that I want there to be a sauce," he said, jiggling a fork through the just-set yolks. As they spread over the fanned potatoes, a few drops of lemon juice finished the dish. "It's like a hollandaise."

Jenny Elliot, who owns On Fire Ovens in Boyceville, Wis., and sells a variety of baked goods as a market vendor, bought a bag of Wealthy apples, raspberries and a handful of homemade candies from Edna's Caramels for her galette, or open-faced pastry.

"Wealthys are a good cooking apple because they hold their shape, but get soft nicely," she said. For the galette, "I want the apples to hold onto their integrity."

'Not just a hippie thing anymore'

Sustainability, or the idea of eating in a way that delivers less of a roundhouse punch to the environment, is a message gaining voice -- witness the popularity of Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." Diane Hatz, director and founder of Sustainable Table, said the tour has unearthed another, more emotional, benefit.

"There's a sense of community that's being re-established where it has been lost," she said. "We're meeting an amazing variety of people who are working on all these different aspects of sustainable food. It's not just a hippie thing anymore, but something mainstream people are caring about."

In any case, the philosophy comes with terrific visuals. Lorenzo Torregrossa of Lorenzo Ovens in Oakdale dressed his pizza dough with slices of grilled zucchini, creamy mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes, adding a boutonniere of basil.

Michelle Gayer-Nicholson, pastry chef for La Belle Vie and Solera restaurants, made a plump galette of apples and candied ginger in a crust flavored with vanilla bean and orange zest and glistening with coarse sugar. "And love," she said.

Carla Blumberg of the Chester Creek Cafe in Duluth paved her herbed dough with tomatoes and friesago cheese from sheep's milk, then adorned the baked galette with a heap of fresh greens and herbs. Her cafe won the prize in an additional contest for pre-prepared traditional pies with a strawberry-rhubarb pie made by her pastry chef, Diane Bailey. Tart with a pucker straight out of childhood, it was hailed as "an outstanding rendition of an American classic." Blumberg figured as much. "Diane is old-school."

The Sustainable Table (www.sustainabletable.org) tour is to conclude this weekend, arriving in New York City for a concert for Farm Aid -- itself a cause of 22 years' standing. "Sustainability isn't a trend anymore; it's not a movement," Hatz said. "People are making it part of their lives."

When the Mill City judges' verdicts were delivered, the winner was Elliot's apple raspberry galette, glazed with the caramels she'd cut up on a whim and sprinkled over the fruit.

It was an act of creation, witnessed and -- yes! -- sampled.

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185

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