Rosenblum: A chef cooks up meal to remember for man battling cancer

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 29, 2014 - 5:55 PM

Nothing could stop Dave Nelson from din­ing out with his wife, Jan, on their 55th wed­ding anni­ver­sa­ry. Not windchill, icy roads, nor a li­quid diet that is a wist­ful re­mind­er of his bat­tle against stage four blad­der can­cer.

It’s a can­cer doc­tors say should have tak­en him months ago.

Dave fell in love with Jan at age 14, mar­ried her at 19, raised three kids with her and cher­ish­es the noise of seven grandkids, ages 11 to 24, es­pe­cial­ly when they’re all to­gether at their Wis­con­sin cab­in, named “Lykkebo,” Nor­we­gian for “hap­py home.”

On Jan. 10, Dave want­ed to cele­brate all of that, even if he had to do it over a bowl of broth.

The low-key cou­ple couldn’t i­mag­ine what hap­pened next.

As Jan sipped champagne and dined on a sal­ad and filet mi­gnon, Dave’s cup runneth over with flavorful clam chow­der, beet sal­ad, wall­eye and beef, all of it served up with a secret in­gre­di­ent:

One amaz­ing blender.

“Pret­ty much any­thing can be puréed if you have the right blender,” said Paul Neu, ex­ec­u­tive sous chef at Mc­Cor­mick and Schmick’s in Edina. Neu was de­light­ed to help make the cou­ple’s anni­ver­sa­ry mem­o­ra­ble.

“He nev­er men­tioned he was in stage four,” said Neu, who cre­at­ed the menu with sous-chef-in-train­ing, Shan­non Nelson (no re­la­tion). “He just said he couldn’t di­gest food, but want­ed to have the taste of it.”

Jan and Dave, both 74, are not me­di­a-hun­gry peo­ple. “But this is so be­yond what any res­tau­rant is ex­pect­ed to do,” Jan said.

Dave nod­ded. “We want­ed them to know how im­port­ant this was to us,” he said.

He also wants ev­er­y­one to know that cold, puréed beet sal­ad, “was so good.” He’s been back twice to ord­er it by the quart.

The cou­ple met 59 years ago on a church out­ing to Luck, Wis. As luck would have it, Dave said, “the car broke down or some­thing,” which meant more time get­ting to know Jan.

Af­ter they mar­ried, Jan stayed home to raise their kids, Paul, Deb and David, first in I­o­wa, then in Edina, and vol­un­teered for many or­gan­i­za­tions, in­clud­ing ser­ving as pres­i­dent of the Edina League of Women Voters. Dave be­gan a 51-year ca­reer as a CPA. He was an avid ten­nis play­er. To­gether, they golfed, traveled the world and loved to eat out.

In 1987, they head­ed to Bay­field, Wis., to hunt for a fam­i­ly cab­in. They found one on a popu­lar lake and, only later, re­al­ized that it was lo­cat­ed in little Luck, just min­utes from the church re­treat where they had met more than 30 years be­fore.

“Is that nuts?” Jan said. “It’s just crazy.”

His can­cer first was di­ag­nosed in 2002. While blad­der can­cer of­ten af­fects smok­ers, he nev­er was one.

When treat­ments didn’t work, sur­geons built him a “neo-blad­der,” and he went into re­mis­sion for near­ly a dec­ade.

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