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A presidential visit to Golden Fig

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: June 27, 2014 - 5:32 PM
President Obama with Laurie Crowell at right, and her sister Lisa McCann, at left

President Obama with Laurie Crowell at right, and her sister Lisa McCann, at left

Laurie Crowell is still smiling.

A day after President Barack Obama stopped by her gourmet food shop, Golden Fig Fine Foods, in St. Paul for a visit, she is still giddy. Bubbling over, in fact. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop smiling,” she said in an interview.

Hard to know if it was the presidential hug that prompted her smiles (more on that in a moment). Or the 30-minute chat she had with the president. Or the knowledge that he dropped by because of a letter she wrote.

About that letter: Through weekly emails she gets from the White House, she realized the president would be in town. “So I replied to the email as though the email was just for me. And I said, ‘I’m glad you’re coming to Minnesota and if you have time you should definitely swing by my store. Everything is made in the U.S. We buy mostly local, and so there’s local grass-fed steaks and chocolate and jams and jellies and milk in glass bottles. It’s all about direct from the producers and the farmers.’

“Of course I got the auto-reply and figured no one would see it. But apparently they did,” she said..

At 4 p.m. on Thursday, the first day of the president’s visit, her store manager called to ask when she would be back in the building. “I said I was just going to go through the car wash and stop at the bank. And she said, ‘Could you not do that? Could you just come here?’ ”

When Laurie got to the store, the Secret Service was there, along with bomb-sniffing dogs. “They were rolling racks in front of the doors so no one could come in behind them. And they asked if the president could come for a visit,” said Laurie. “And I thought, ‘Are you kidding? Of course'.”

And President Obama did. They chatted for a half hour on the importance of buying local, and about sustainability and organics and researching bee issues. 

President Obama signed his merchandise receipt for the owner of Golden Fig.

President Obama signed his merchandise receipt for the owner of Golden Fig.

He bought about $80 worth of Minnesota foods and paid with cash. “I don’t know if they jam everything, but we couldn’t make any phone calls; we couldn’t run credit cards. No one’s internet worked,” she said.

At the cash register, the president opened up his wallet and said, “Pretty much all I have is cash and a Chicago driver’s license," she said. “He showed me his license and I looked at his hair in the photo, and we both laughed because it was much more full and not gray. He said, ‘Yeah, it expires in 2016 so I’m good for a few more years’.”

The president left the store with two bags of Minnesota-made products, which Laurie – ever the entrepreneur – has pulled together into the Presidential Gift Box, wrapped in red-white-and-blue ribbon, should any shopper want to bring home the same.

That includes the raspberry jam from HeathGlen Farms (from Forest Lake), Minnesalsa and whole-grain blue tortilla chips, Mademoiselle Miel honey bon bons, sea salt caramels, chocolate-covered caramels from Painted Turtle, Golden Fig balsamic vinegar and apple chips from Eden Apples of Eden Prairie.

Then the president headed out for a stroll down Grand Avenue after noting that he was in the mood for ice cream.

And about that hug.

“I’m a total hugger, but I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to hug him – I didn’t want to be thrown down to the floor by the Secret Service because that would have been embarrassing!” she said with a laugh. “I went to shake his hand and he said “Wait, come here” and he totally gave me a hug.”

Other food spots the president visited:

Matt's Bar for a Jucy Lucy and iced tea.
Grand Ole Creamery for a waffle cone of Black Hills Gold ice cream
Wild Onion Bar and Restaurant for a chat with those in outdoor seats

President Obama with Rebekah Erler, who had also written a letter to the White House. Photo by Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

President Obama with Rebekah Erler, who had also written a letter to the White House. Photo by Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

Piccolo gets a shout-out

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: June 2, 2014 - 11:18 AM

When the Wall Street Journal asked Hugh Acheson (James Beard award-winner, 'Top Chef' judge, New South chef) where he had eaten a recent memorable meal, Acheson singled out Piccolo in Minneapolis where he had dined about six months ago.

"I had dinner at Piccolo, which serves modern American farm-to-table food. The chef, Doug Flicker, is cooking with a seasonal sensibility that is profound, professional and inspiring. The food was just so fresh and smart, even on a cold, fall day. I had speck-wrapped capon with chanterelles, parsnip chow-chow, cockscomb pain perdu and parsnip milk. Nothing like a castrated chicken to make a meal sublime. And it makes you feel good when you find food of that caliber in a place where you didn't expect it."

Best cookbooks of year get nod from IACP

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: March 18, 2014 - 10:35 AM

Award season has begun in the cookbook world as the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) bestowed its nod to volumes that are particularly noteworthy over the weekend. Among the new designations in the contest this year are awards for classic, historical and e-cookbooks. 

The envelope (and categories), please …  


Book of the year: “Stone Edge Farm Cookbook,” by John McReynolds (Stone Edge Farm)


American: “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen,” by Matt Lee & Ted Lee (Clarkson Potter)
Baking/ savory or sweet: “The Art of French Pastry,” by Jacquy Pfeiffer (Random House)
Beverage/ reference/ technical: “The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food & Drink in America, Second Edition,” by Andrew F. Smith (Oxford University Press)
Chefs and restaurants: “The A.O.C. Cookbook,” by Suzanne Goin (Random House)
Children, youth and family: “ChopChop: The Kids’ Guide to Cooking Real Food With Your Family,” by Sally Sampson (Simon & Schuster)
Compilations: “The Chelsea Market Cookbook: 100 Recipes From New York’s Premier Indoor Food Hall,” by Michael Phillips with Rick Rodgers (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Culinary history: “Cuisine & Empire: Cooking in World History,” by Rachel Laudan (University of California Press)
Culinary travel: “The Perfect Meal,” by John Baxter (HarperCollins Publishers)
First book: “Stone Edge Farm Cookbook,” by John McReynolds (Stone Edge Farm)
Food matters: “Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics,” by Marion Nestle (Rodale) and “Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health,” by Jo Robinson (Hachette Book Group)
General: “Keepers,” by Kathy Brennan & Caroline Campion (Rodale)
Health and special diet: “Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening With Twelve Families From the Edible Plant Kingdom,” by Deborah Madison (Ten Speed Press)
International: “Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way,” by Oretta Zanini De Vita & Maureen B. Fant (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Literary food writing: “One Soufflé at a Time,” by Anne Willan and Amy Friedman (St. Martin’s Press)
Photography: “I Love New York: Ingredients and Recipes,” by Daniel Humm & Will Guidara (Francesco Tonelli, photographer) (Ten Speed Press)
Professional kitchens: “Elements of Dessert,” by Francisco Migoya and the Culinary Institute of America (Wiley)
Single subject: “Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook,” by Rick Mast and Michael Mast (Hachette Book Group)
Wine, beer and spirits: “Wine Grapes,” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding & Jose Vouillamoz (HarperCollins Publishers)
Global design: “Manresa: An Edible Reflection,” by David Kinch & Christine Muhlke (Ten Speed Press)
E-cookbook: “The Journey,” by Katy Sparks, Alex Raij, Maneet Chauhan, Rita Sodi and Kathleen Squires (Alta Editions)
Jane Grigson award: “Wine Grapes,” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding & Jose Vouillamoz (HarperCollins Publishers)
Design award: “Mr. Wilkinson’s Vegetables: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Garden,” by Matt Wilkinson (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers)
Judges’ choice: “The Drunken Botanist,” by Amy Stewart (Workman Publishing Co.) and “ Lark – Cooking Against the Grain,” by John Sundstrom (Community Supported Cookbooks)
Historical cookbook award: “American Cookery,” by Amelia Simmons (1796)

Culinary classics awards:
• “The Art of Mexican Cooking,” by Diana Kennedy (Clarkson Potter, 1989)
• “Invitation to Indian Cookery,” by Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf, 1973)
• “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook” (originally “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book”), by Betty Crocker (1950)
• “The Moosewood Cookbook,” by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed, 1977)
• “The Silver Palate Cookbook,” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman, 1982)
 

For details on the digital, journalism and other IACP awards, see the posting in full. 

But the big news from Taste is that freelancer Steve Hoffman won the award for Culinary Narrative Writing with his story for the food section, "From the wild: meals from a hunter," that ran on Thanksgiving Day. Find it here.

Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste

The Bachelor Farmer serves up a meal for the Vice President

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: February 20, 2014 - 10:50 AM

What do you serve when you've got a Vice President at the dinner table? The Bachelor Farmer delivered when Joe Biden stopped by Wednesday night for a fundraising event, after stopping earlier for a press moment at nearby Moose & Sadie's coffee shop.

TBF offered a three-course meal, starting with bibb lettuce and goat's cheese, offering a choice of a main course (roasted haddock or beef short ribs) and finishing with a brown butter lemon cake.

It was a heady day for the staff at TBF, which had received two James Beard Award semifinalist nominations in the morning, one for chef Paul Berglund in the category of Best Chef Midwest and the other for the Marvel Bar, TBF's downstairs lounge, which was nominated for Outstanding Bar Program.

See the full menu below, which was designed by local calligrapher Crystal Kluge, who also designed the Marvel Bar's logo.

A culinary song-and-dance from Alton Brown

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean Updated: February 11, 2014 - 10:24 AM
Photo by David Allen, from Alton Brown Live!

Photo by David Allen, from Alton Brown Live!

Have to say it was the first time I've seen burping and farting take center stage at any theater.

And hopefully the last.

The sounds, as presented by sock puppets on a large monitor, opened Alton Brown's "Edible Inedible Tour" at the State Theatre last Friday, an event that played to a multi-age full house who was clearly enthusiastic about his long-running "Good Eats" TV show, now in reruns on the Cooking Channel. (The sound effects, repeated during the intermission and at the close of the show, depicted the action of yeast molecules releasing gas.)

Alton Brown was his madcap self, a grand storyteller with a sly sense of humor, during the 2 hour, 45 minute culinary variety show, which celebrated what he said were "things you're not allowed to do on TV -- you can't rant, rave or pontificate or you'll piss off advertisers." (The excess "sound effects" reflected him thumbing his nose at the Food Network, which he said enforced a burp-to-fart ratio on "Good Eats.")

The puppets that provided the sound effects. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean.

The puppets that provided the sound effects. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean.


No sponsors, no advertisers means all fun, right? Well, as we say in the news biz, everyone needs an editor. And this show could have used a scalpel at times, starting with the interminable burping and farting. You know the little kid in kindergarten who would do that and get a laugh, and then wouldn't stop doing it? Well....

The show ran 45 minutes longer than expected, in part because Alton got chatty (often commenting snarkily, in good fun, on the cold weather and other Minnesota-related tangents) and, at the end, because he chose a volunteer in the audience who liked being center stage (she talked almost as much as he did).

But the unwieldy length was more than someone not watching the clock: His musical trio (with Alton on both electric and acoustic guitar, then saxophone) really didn't add much to the evening with food songs that were, well, half-baked, worth a smile but not much more. And some of his TV antics didn't hold up on a theater stage (breezing through a science lesson, for example, had to cross more eyes than just mine).

Two cooking "demos" were delightfully quirky, though took far too long to complete. In one he makes carbonated ice cream using a fire extinguisher (the only single-use piece of kitchen equipment that has his approval).

Making ice cream with a volunteer from the audience. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean

Making ice cream with a volunteer from the audience. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean

The other was what turned out to be a long-winded demonstration of his Mega-Bake Oven, a variation on the girls-only Easy Bake Oven of his youth. Though the store version uses a single 100-watt bulb, his monstrous variation, presumably built in his garage or so he implied, gathers power from 54,000 watts of stage lights. "You can see this from space," he chortled as the blinding lights were turned on.

From this powerhouse of light, he and a volunteer (the Chatty Kathy aforementioned), cooked a pizza topped with (what else?) lutefisk and pepperoni.

What 54,000 watts looks like. Hot enough to cook a pizza. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean

What 54,000 watts looks like. Hot enough to cook a pizza. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean

The best part of the show was his rant on "10 Things I'm Pretty Sure That I'm Sure About Food," an eclectic list that apparently changes from time to time, Here's the Minnesota version:

1. Chickens don't have fingers (where he tells the tale of shocking his daughter's friends with chicken feet).

2. The most critical cooking skill is to use salt (from here he goes on to talk about the bakery dough he discarded in an outdoor dumpster on a very hot day, resulting in an oozing Son-of-Blob scenario that needed commercial trucks to remedy). 

Alton Brown's high-tech version of Power Point, illustrating the trout ice cream. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean.

Alton Brown's high-tech version of Power Point, illustrating the trout ice cream. Photo by Lee Svitak Dean.

3. Trout doesn't belong in ice cream (he tells the story of chef Sakai who did just that on "Iron Chef America").

4. The best cook on Earth is your wife, and the sooner you accept it, the happier you'll be (as he relates a story on making the mistake of "correcting" the seasoning in his wife's dish).3. Trout doesn't belong in ice cream (he relates an episode of "Iron Chef America" in which chef Sakai does just that).

5. The best ingredient to learn to cook is eggs. ("It's liquid meat, premeasured, cheap, and even if you mess them up you can eat them. Conquer eggs and the rest of the culinary world follows.")

6. The most important tool in the kitchen is the dinner table. This follows his comments in an earlier interview that, "The most magical thing about food is its ability to connect human beings to one another. That's the real miracle of food." As for the food? "In 12 hours, it's poo." 

7. Wash mushrooms.( "That's not dirt they're grown in; it's horse poop.") 

8. Buy American. ("We have the best farmers, the best fish, the best laws overseeing food. Odds are you can't do worse than that.")

9. Raisins are always optional. (Who can disagree with that, says this writer?)

10. Never eat a shrimp cocktail in an airport. (Enough said. Though that led to a very long song about what happens when food poisoning hits.)

For more on Alton, see my earlier interview with him in the Star Tribune.

Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste

The State Theatre audience. Photo by Alton Brown.

The State Theatre audience. Photo by Alton Brown.


 

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