By ROCHELLE OLSON
In more than two decades as a reporter, I’ve met/encountered/interviewed the famous and the infamous – presidents, star athletes, rock stars, movie stars and convicted killers. It’s my job. After all this time, I don’t get nervous, but I can be apprehensive when the celebrity is someone I’ve enjoyed for years. I worry the person won’t live up to the image.
Like my brief brush with Mick Jagger years ago, my studio interview of Jacques Pepín exceeded my hopes.
I’d like to say I’m a devotee of Pepín’s method, that I’ve worked my way through a third copy of “La Technique,” but I’m mostly a fan and a Francophile with a passion for Paris dreaming of the next time I can walk past the Tuilieries at dusk.
On his shows, Pepín charms, slices, dices and sautes while sharing sweet anecdotes and mildly mischievous asides. He seems so familiar and friendly it’s easy to forget he cooked for Charles DeGaulle and created food with Pierre Franey for the entire Howard Johnson hotel chain in its heyday.
He quickly assuaged my concerns with his calm, relaxed attitude. (If you’re unfamiliar with him, google his YouTube videos on omelet making. Fun and informative as always.)
On camera, Pepín’s flawless. No fumbling or mumbling, just ease. Only a couple of times was he asked to do a second take for this episode. And each was a notch better than the first.I watched the taping on Monday at San Francisco’s KQED and expected to return Wednesday for an interview. But after all the audience members had posed for photos, Pepín and his producers called me over for a shot. I followed orders.
Since I was standing next to him, I started asking questions. Then he asked if I wanted a glass of pinot noir. He was still drinking his wine from the show. I don’t usually drink on the job, but at this time, on the set with Pepín, I responded, “When Jacques Pepín offers a glass of wine, who am I to say no?”
Pepín decided he had time before his afternoon taping to sit for an interview in the green room. Once inside, he asked a producer to get some more wine for us – chenin blanc left over from the show.
Now remember I had gone into the interview wary that the real-life Jacques would be justifiably less amusing than TV Jacques. Instead, here I was relaxing and on my second glass of wine with the great Jacques Pepin – the man who cooked with Julia and any other significant chef in the past 50-some years.
And he was more down-to-earth and direct than I expected. He didn’t bristle at any questions. He was also much more handsome than he appears on TV. He has these deep brown eyes and is as handsome as an older George Clooney – if the movie star had that adorable French accent.
So here are a few snippets I learned that didn’t make my recent story in print:
When I asked about Julia, he told the story about how his neighbor, reporter Morley Safer, asked for an introduction to Julia ahead of a planned “60 Minutes” profile. Safer, most likely, was hoping to warm up his subject before sitting down with cameras.
Pepín shook his head as he recalled telling Safer, “I can introduce you, but it won’t matter. Julia is Julia.”
Still, he and Safer attended one of Julia’s public events. Pepín didn’t recall the first question from an audience member, but he did recall Child’s response: “What a stupid question.”
He met Julia after a publishing agent asked him to read her manuscript for “The Art of French Cooking.” Pepin recalled the agent saying, “I’ve met this very big woman with a terrible voice.” He gave the manuscript a thumbs up – and eventually teamed with Child for their own famous cooking series.
Pepín won’t retire. “What would I do? Now I get up every day at the crack of 10 a.m. I am not an early riser.” But he’s got a heavy schedule of public appearances, cooking events, petanque playing (a French game of tossing metal hollow balls, similar to bocce ball), walking his dogs and hanging out with his wife of 49 years, Gloria.
He hasn’t been to Paris in more than a decade. In the past when he would travel to France, it was to see his mother near Lyon where he grew up. He saw her last summer and she died soon after at 99 1/2, he notes.
He paints as a hobby and considers Picasso the master of the 20th century.
Because he never owned or ran a restaurant, Pepin said, “I didn’t have to worry much about what I said.”
As he’s grown older, Pepin said, “I like things much more spicy than I used to.”
He repeatedly praised simplicity. “Imagination is not something I’m crazy about. Sometimes they can really screw up the meal,” he said.
He likes teaching his granddaughter Shorey how to cook. “The kitchen is the right place to be after school – the noise, the smell of it – all that stays with you the rest of your life.”
Follow Rochelle Olson on Twitter: @rochelleolson
Minneapolitans and two-time James Beard award-winning filmmakers Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine of the Perennial Plate are back in the news, this time with a preview of their soon-to-debut effort on PBS.
It's a reboot of the network's popular and groundbreaking "The Victory Garden" series, this time seen through the couple's storytelling prism, with an assist by the national network of Edible magazines.
TPT hasn't announced when it's running the show (the series launches, network-wide, in December), but look for an upcoming announcement on its website.
Catch the preview here:
Winners of the fourth-annual Charlie Awards were announced Sunday afternoon at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis. The awards celebrate excellence in the Twin Cities' food and drink scene.
Thomas Boemer, chef/co-owner of Corner Table, was handed the award for Emerging Food Professional, which salutes chefs with less than five years experience. The restaurant, which moved to a new home earlier this year, was also handed the Outstanding Service award.
Restaurateur Kim Bartmann was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award. The award caps a busy year for Bartmann. Since January, the owner of Bryant-Lake Bowl, Barbette, Red Stag Supperclub, Gigi’s Cafe, Pat’s Tap and Bread & Pickle, launched two restaurants – Tiny Diner and the Third Bird – and had a hand in the birth of a third, Kyatchi.
The award for Outstanding Pastry Chef went to John Kraus of Patisserie 46.
Vincent Francoual, chef/owner of Vincent, was named the year’s Community Hero.
Jesse Held of Borough, Parlour and Coup d’etat was named Outstanding Bartender. Coup d’etat also came up a winner in the Outstanding Restaurant Design category. The Uptown restaurant, which opened in January, was designed by ESG Architects of Minneapolis.
Two awards were determined by an open-to-the-public online poll (one that garnered 10,000 votes). The Moral Omnivore was named Outstanding Food Truck. The online poll also selected nominees for Outstanding Food Item, and a panel of expert judges chose the winner from six finalists. That award went to the St. Paul Grill and its the "Grill Charlie’s,” a beef tenderloin sandwich with caramelized onions and horseradish mayonnaise.
Winners are selected from a voting pool of 175 independently owned Twin Cities food-and-drink establishments.
The awards are organized by Ivey Awards founder Scott Mayer and longtime Twin Cities food advocate Sue Zelickson, and are named for Charlie’s Cafe Exceptionale (pictured, above, in a 1960 Star Tribune file photo), the fabled downtown Minneapolis restaurant that closed on July 21, 1982, after a 49-year run.
It’s a memorable day at Gavin Kaysen’s opening-in-mid-November North Loop restaurant.
“All of our plates, and glasses, and silverware just arrived, and we’re unpacking,” he said. “It’s a little hectic around here.”
Oh, and then there’s the slight matter of an announcement Kaysen dropped on social media this morning. He’s changed the name of his enterprise, from Merchant to Spoon and Stable (check out his video here).
The new name reflects the century-old building’s original use as a stable — remnants of the horse stalls remain in the dining room’s brick walls — and Kaysen’s well-known penchant for stealing restaurant spoons. As souvenirs. To date, he estimates that his collection, numbers-wise, hovers around 500.
Q: So, spoons?
A: Yeah [laughs]. I started doing it when I was probably like 20. It didn’t start out as much. You know, when you travel, you save a postcard, or you save currency — and I did, all these countries before they went to the euro, I have them framed — and I didn’t think much of it, I just starting taking spoons, thinking it would be a fun way to remember where I’d been. You know, I would be inspired by the meal, or the company. What’s funny is that people started sending them to me. I’ve had cooks who staged in places around the world, and they’d send me spoons. I’ll be honest, I have a number of spoons that I don’t know where they came from — no clue — and some of them have got a note taped to them to remind me. But I do know where the majority came from.
Q: Is your collection going to be displayed in the restaurant?
A: My brother is going to create a piece of art work with them. We're going to get out a couple bottles of wine, he’s bringing over driftwood from California, and we'll get some glue or nails so they don’t get stolen like I stole them [laughs].
Q: Are you holding any spoons back?
A: Yes, I want to be sure they’re not included because they mean so much to me. I have a spoon from my first meal at Cafe Boulud. I’ve got a spoon from Paul Bocuse, I remember that very well. I’ve got one from the French Laundry, it was given to me, I didn’t take it. There’s one from David Myers from Sona in L.A. At the end of the meal, I was presented with a cigar box, and I opened it, and inside, there was a spoon.
Q: Have you ever been caught?
A: No. I used to sometimes take them and slip them into my wife’s purse, and she’d say, "Don’t make me be that person." But there’s a spoon that I’ve never been able to get, from Alain Ducasse's restaurant in Monoco. The silverware is gold. I’d give my left leg to get one of those spoons. A friend was there, and he sent a picture of it, and said it was "the spoon that got away." He didn’t take it for me. He said, "Are you out of your mind? I’m not going to steal a gold spoon for you." [laughs]
Q: How much do 500 spoons weigh?
A: A [expletive deleted]-ton, you have no idea. When I moved them from New York, I vacuum-sealed them, separately, because they were so loud. From there, I divided them among three separate boxes, that’s how heavy they are.
Q: Are you setting yourself up for souvenir seekers like yourself?
A: Probably [laughs]. I’m going to put a souvenir charge on our POS [point of sale] system. That’s the only way to control it. I got the idea at Tru in Chicago. I was having dinner there, by myself, and there was a lady who had ordered that beautiful caviar staircase, do you remember that? When she finishes the caviar, she discreetly grabs the caviar staircase and puts it in her purse. No one says anything, not the waiter, no one. I was shocked. She proceeds through the meal, and asks for the check. When she sees the final invoice, she opens her purse, puts the caviar staircase back on the table, and the waiter takes the bill away and readjusts it. Later I asked him, "What did you do?" And he told me they have a souvenir fee, because people take the staircases all the time. It was $250. And I said, "You legitimately have that as a line item on your POS system?" [laughs].
Q: I can’t tell if you’re being straight with me. You’re really going to have a souvenir charge? How much?
A: I don’t even know. Good question. But I’m totally going to have to have a souvenir fee. We have to do something [laughs]. Or we can just let it chill out for six months, and then get the word out that we’ll have a Sunday where everyone can come in and return the spoons, no questions asked [laughs].
Q: When did you decide to change the name?
A: About two weeks ago, when I began to realize all the other restaurants named Merchant. I didn’t know about them. There’s one close to us, in Madison, Wis. More than anything else, I was putting on my small business owner hat, and asking myself, ‘How will this help or hurt the guys in Madison, or in New Jersey, or in L.A.? I don’t want to the cause of any hurt. I want our name to be genuine to this space.
Q: And you went to your mentors for advice?
A: Yes, I went to Daniel [Boulud], and I asked Thomas Keller. I said, "Chef, do think this is bad, changing the name?" My biggest concern is that people would think it was weird; you know, the prime rib special that’s now $9 when everyone else is charging $18. Chef said, "Naming the restaurant is the hardest part of the build-out, and I’m always glad that I didn’t have to name the French Laundry, because it was already called that. Whatever is on the front door, you have to believe that. You make it that name."
Q: How many names did you brainstorm?
A: It’s funny, Spoon and Stable was the first name that I came up with, way back, but I set it aside. Actually, when I originally wrote the business plan, I was calling it Dorothy’s [for Kaysen’s late grandmother, Dorothy Ann Kaysen]. Then I walked through the space and saw the stable and thought, yeah, this makes sense. Why didn’t I just listen to myself the first time? It could have been a lot easier. But that’s part of the process, and I learned a very valuable lesson. That’s being a business owner. You learn these things. I want to learn from my mistakes, it makes you better.
The burger: Welcome to the Duluth Road Trip version of Burger Friday. I recently spent a few hours in the Minnesota half of the Twin Ports – a noon-hour layover on an Apostle Islands-St. Paul trek – and once we crossed the Blatnik Bridge (the Bong Bridge, my favorite infrastructure name, ever, was out of commission) we made a beeline for the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace for a quick sandwich stop at my Canal Park culinary go-to, Northern Waters Smokehaus.
Wouldn't you know it? The line was out the door – as always. Fidgety with hunger, we turned to the right and opted for a table inside the Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar.
Although momentarily disappointed -- goodbye bison pastrami! – but we were not disappointed.
It’s anchored by a patty with a sterling grass-fed beef pedigree, hailing from Thousand Hills Cattle Co. The kitchen takes it to a deep, almost crispy exterior char, grilling it until there are just trace elements of pink in the patty’s center.
Beran’s formula blends brisket, chuck and tri-tip sirloin, and the combination tastes as good as that sounds. For added richness, he freezes butter, runs it through an electric shredder and folds it into that richly beefy mix. “I remember reading that Erick Harcey [chef/co-owner of Victory 44, home to one of the Twin Cities’ blue ribbon-worthiest burgers] was throwing butter into his burgers,” said Beran.
Smart call. Each patty starts as a hand-formed ball, and it’s fried in a hot cast-iron pan. “We shmush them to order – it’s like the Smashburger idea, only better – using a large spatula and giving it a single press,” said Beran. Seasonings? Just salt and pepper.
From there, Beran sticks to the tried-and-true: wonderfully crunchy (and welcomingly acidic) cucumber pickle chips, crisp chopped lettuce and red onion, a juicy tomato slice and a swipe of mayo fortified with fish sauce, sweet onions and ketchup.
As for the cheese, it’s a doozy, a teasingly salty and appealingly melty slab of white Cheddar with a fascinating background story.
“We go through one of those molecular processes,” said Beran. Here’s how it works: After nudging a mix of beer, vinegar and sodium citrate – an emulsifier – to a boil, Beran whisks in white Cheddar. The fondue-style results are cooled into a sliceable (and flavor-boosted) format that melts with reliable grace, not unlike a good-old piece of individually-wrapped Kraft American.
The bun hails from the Red Mug Bake Shop in Superior, Wis., a favorite stop of mine in the Twin Ports. It was billed as a challah bun, and while I wasn’t feeling the traditional egginess, it was a fine bun all the same: soft, golden, lightly toasted, lovely.
In short, a burger anyone would hope to encounter on a road trip. A quick glance around the dining room confirmed my hypothesis; a hefty percentage of my fellow diners were also in relishing burgers.
“Duluth is a burger-loving town,” said Beran with a laugh, which probably explains some of the high sales figures. But I have to think that Beran’s prowess is a primary reason behind those big numbers.
Fries: Included. They’re great: Thick-ish, deeply golden, admirably crisp and generously seasoned.
Address book: 394 S. Lake Av., Duluth, 218-722-2355. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 am. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at email@example.com.
Recipe bonus round: The restaurant’s new-ish cookbook (those thinking of grabbing one for a souvenir might reasonably be taken aback by the stratospheric $34.95 price tag) contains nearly four dozen appealing recipes, including what to me reads as this quintessential Duluth formula.
LAKE SUPERIOR FISH CAKES
Note: Adapted from “Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar Cookbook” (Heirloom Industry, 2013). “Substitute whitefish with herring, walleye, perch, sunfish or our favorite, Victus Farm tilapia from Silver Bay, Minn.,” writes Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar chef Tony Beran. “Most white flaky fish will work well.” For julienned carrot and radish, cut vegetables then place them into an ice bath for at least 2 hours prior to serving (“to achieve a curl,” writes Beran). When ready to serve, remove vegetables from water by hand and place them on a paper towel to remove excess water.
1 lb. whitefish, skinned and deboned
½ yellow onion, minced
½ jalapeno, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
Zest from 1 lemon
1 tbsp. fish sauce
1 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. salt
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and carefully add whitefish. Cook for about 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat, strain fish from water using a fine colander and allow fish to cool.
In a large bowl, toss cooled fish with onion, jalapeno, celery, lemon zest, fish sauce, bread crumbs, eggs, pepper and salt.
Using your hands, form mixture into 8 2-ounce patties (roughly 1/4 cup portions).
Fill a heavy skillet or fryer with enough vegetable or canola oil to cover the cakes (only up to half the height of the pan) and bring the oil to 375 degrees. Fry cakes until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spatula, remove cakes from oil and transfer to a paper towel-covered plate.
To serve, 1/4 cup Tomatillo Yogurt (see Recipe, below) across each of four plates. Place 2 cakes on top of each plate. In a medium bowl, toss pickled beets (see Recipe, below), julienned carrot and julienned Daikon radish (see Note) and sprinkle over cakes.
Makes 1 cup.
2 1/2 tomatillos, thinly sliced
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. plain yogurt
1 1/2 tsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss tomatillos with salt then arrange in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, transfer tomatillos to a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse until well-blended. Line a medium bowl with a paper towel, transfer pureed tomatillos to bowl, then squeeze out excess liquid. Place tomatillos back in food processor, add yogurt, soy sauce and honey and pulse until well-combined.
Makes about 1 cup.
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. water
1 star anise pod
1/4 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 large red beet, peeled and julienned
In a medium pot over medium-high heat, combine balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, water, star anise, cinnamon stick, sugar and salt and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat and bring to room temperature. Place beets in a glass jar and strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the jar. Allow beets to sit, uncovered, for 24 hours, and use as desired. Store in a tightly sealed jar for 3 to 4 weeks.
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