When chef Paul Berglund and Cooks of Crocus Hill co-owner Karl Benson got to talking, the way food people do, the conversation eventually led to a series of Italian dinners that Berglund (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo) will be staging at Cooks’ roomy St. Paul cooking school in mid-October.
Here’s some back story: Berglund, the James Beard award-winning former chef of the Bachelor Farmer, is now a newlywed living in Rochester, where his wife, Dr. Tia Chakraborty, is completing a two-year fellowship in neurocritical care.
Her fellowship ends in June, and the couple is planning their next move. She’s scoping out staff positions.
“And my next phase of my career is going to be owning a restaurant,” said Berglund. “The good thing about the cooking profession is that it’s very portable. I can call anywhere home. We’re looking, coast-to-coast, for a place where both of us can thrive.”
He already has some ideas for that future restaurant.
“I want to serve pasta, among other things,” he said. “It’s something that I’m passionate about. The more time that I spend in this career – and I’ve been cooking for 15 years – the more important it is for me to connect with patrons, and to celebrate the dining experience. And I feel like there are few foods that people celebrate more than pasta, so serving a delicious bowl of pasta is a very worthwhile endeavor for me.”
Planning for the future has triggered a return to Berglund’s Italian culinary roots.
“I started cooking Italian food 15 years ago,” he said. “That’s something that I never really explored since I moved to Minnesota. I never lost my love for it, and I still consider it my strongest skill set as a cook and as a chef. I’m excited to explore and work in that medium again.”
“Again” refers to his time at Oliveto, the well-regarded Italian restaurant in Oakland, Calif. When the St. Louis native relocated to the Twin Cities, his six-year, four-star turn at the Bachelor Farmer focused on Nordic culinary traditions that celebrated local, seasonal ingredients. It was a long distance to Italy.
“Pasta wasn’t at the core of what I did at the Bachelor Farmer, and it’s always something that I’ve wanted to get back to,” he said. “It’s exciting to be working with Cooks of Crocus Hill, and to exercise some of the muscles that I haven’t exercised in a long time.”
Still, the Cooks of Crocus Hill evenings won’t be all pasta, all the time.
“But they will be anchored by the pasta courses, and it will focus on Italian, or Italian-inspired dishes,” said Berglund. “It’s been fun to get back to some of the dishes that I haven’t cooked in 10 years, and to taste the tastes of my earlier career. It’s been really fascinating, now that I’m a more experienced cook, to be doing that through a different lens. Working with all the great chefs at the Bachelor Farmer really taught me a lot of different ways of cooking, and now I’m seeing these dishes through that perspective.”
“One thing I want to keep from my time at the Bachelor Farmer is the appreciation of vegetables, simply prepared,” he said. “And using the seasonal bounty that we have here in Minnesota.”
Berglund also plans to emphasize his partnership with Baker’s Field Flour & Bread, which mills locally cultivated heirloom grains into flour at its facility in northeast Minneapolis.
“We’ll get [owner] Steve Horton in to talk about his role in the local food movement, as well as his experiences in being a pioneer in the sort-of revitalization of the grain culture in Minneapolis,” said Berglund. “Making pasta with flour that was just milled a few days prior, you just taste, smell and see a world of difference in those pastas. Wherever Tia and I land in our next phase, that’s what I hope to do, to work with freshly milled flours that are representative of the region.”
The Paul Berglund Pop-Up Dinners at the St. Paul location of Cooks of Crocus Hill (877 Grand Av.) are taking place Friday, Oct. 18 at 6:30 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $80 per person (a $30 wine pairing will be available for purchase at the event); tickets can be purchased here.
“It’s not a class, it’s not a dinner, it’s somewhere in between,” said Benson. “It’s an opportunity for Paul to come back to town and reengage, and for us to try something different. It’s going to give plenty of opportunities for people to mix and mingle. It’s the Paul Berglund show! If it turns into a free-for-all, awesome.”
Benson noted that if the evenings are a success, they’ll continue through the winter.
“The world is changing all the time,” he said. “We’re trying to find something that fits, and diversifies our offerings.”
Oh, and Rochester area diners, listen up: In August, as a precursor to the Cooks of Crocus Hill events, Berglund offered a series of first-come, first-serve pasta pop-up dinners at newcomer Benedict’s.
“I hope to be doing more of those in the upcoming weeks and months,” he said.