When last we left Scott Pampuch, the charismatic, handsome, garrulous chef famous as one of the founders of the locavore movement, he had shocked the world by taking a job as executive chef at the Minnesota Valley Country Club, and further shocked the world by actually selling his restaurant Corner Table, which had been just about as closely identified with him as his face has been. What? Why? Sure, he was keeping his Tour de Farm farm dinners going, but how could one of the high priests of everything local not have a local spot? Here’s how: He’s taking Minneapolis local national. Next Monday brings the beginning of Pampuch’s drive to bring his radical, Minneapolis-grown locavore thinking to the national stage, when his three-part television show debuts on the Ovation cable network. It’s called In Search of Food and will air nationally. Which makes the last few months of Pampuch re-positioning make a little more sense: Will Scott Pampuch be the next Minnesota food superstar, following in the shoes of Andrew Zimmern?
“No no no,” said Pampuch, when I asked him. “No. I have a tricycle and some training wheels, and I’m going to be running on this network that no one knows. This show is in its second season, and it’s on next week, but they still have the first season website up.” (Fact check: Yes, they do still have the first season website up!)
Still, it’s a pretty big launching pad for a Minneapolis local food hero. Maybe if you watch it, and phone all of your friends in far off area codes to watch too, Pampuch will get big enough ratings to do more. “The first episode, I was in Boulder, Co., and worked with Ann Cooper to try to feed 300 kids in a middle school on $1.15 each—and failed miserably. There’s not enough money to feed a human for $1.15, without getting into commodity, highly processed fake food. We can give you a meal for a dollar fifteen that will kill you eventually, but not a real meal.”
(Speaking of which, when Pampuch was looking for schools for his seven-year-old he asked all the principals how much they spent on school lunches, and landed on the Hopkins school system, which uses Royal Cuisine, which, Pampuch says, “is brilliant. When we were looking at schools Minneapolis was spending less than a dollar per kid, Hopkins was spending more than two dollars.” He then asked about my own kid, who packs his organic apple juice and string cheese every day. “So I’m angry with you for having your kid pack cold lunch,” Pampuch told me. “You’re opting out. Get your ass in front of the principal and tell them to get more food so your kid doesn’t have to take cold lunch.” Um, hmm.)
“That’s what the show is like,” Pampuch explained to me. “People who know me are going to say: That’s just how he is. I was pissed and frustrated [failing to cook school lunch] but the whole topic was by design, there are so many challenges in our culture, that’s what I’m passionate about. If I can get a platform to talk about what’s really important, I’m going to take it. That’s where I am with my career in food, I love being in the kitchen, I love cooking, but at the same time there are important things to talk about—and God knows I can talk.” And his talking about sustainability, and healthy food for real families is taking him on the road, he’s going to Chicago to do a James Beard Foundation farm dinner, he’s going to California to work with Jamie Oliver to launch a local farm directed at supplying Oakland schools. I love food, I love cooking, and if we can address bigger societal issues along the way, that’s great.”
Speaking of Pampuch’s cooking, if you didn’t know, you should, the Minnesota Valley Country Club offers special social memberships, for those who want to dine at the club but don’t want to get a full membership. (The social membership isn’t expensive, but for some reason the club doesn’t want me to publish the details; if you live in the area you should call them at 952-884-2409.) Pampuch tells me he has had people join the club just to get his food, and as we head into wedding season it should be noted that the country club makes for quite a locavore wedding location, as you don’t have to be any kind of member to have a wedding there. (Oh, and Pampuch on the current chef of Corner Table: “If you haven’t eaten Thomas [Boehmer]’s food by now you’re an absolute idiot. The guy is just excessively talented, he has great respect for the craft.”)
I’ve always thought Minneapolis had a special take on locavore food, both resolutely practical (the winter goes on and on, this ain’t San Diego) and stunningly idealistic (but we can have local Camembert, and foie gras!) If Scott Pampuch is the one to take this national I’ll be nothing short of delighted.
In Search of Food airs this coming week—Monday April 16-Wednesday April 18, on the Ovation network.