What makes Minnesota food life so awesome? No really! Really. We have great producers of so many things—baguettes, ducks, grass-fed milk, soft ripened cheeses, Mangalitsa ham, bourbon, kettle corn.
We have an exceptionally flexible matrix of creatives: One day Foxy Falafel is a stand at a farmer’s market, then it’s a truck, then it’s a taxpaying bricks-and-mortar restaurant with a bunch of employees. Ditto for Sun Street Breads. Chefs are drawn here from all over the world at this point, from California (Thomas Kim, The Left Handed Cook), from Chicago (John Krauss of Patisserie 46), from New York City five star restaurants (Peter Ireland of The Lynn on Bryant) from Arizona (portions of Travail crew), from France, for heaven’s sake (Patrick Atanalian of Sanctuary, Vincent Francoual of Vincent A Restaurant, Patrick Bernet of Patrick’s Bakery.) Our young chefs are unbelievably well represented in national awards—this year Jamie Malone of Sea Change was a Food & Wine’s top new chef in America, Mike Brown of Travail was recently flown to Los Angeles after being named one of Eater.com’s Young Guns, go a couple years back in time and Sameh Wadi was nominated as a James Beard Rising Star, now he has a fine dining restaurant, a food truck, a booming fast casual spot, and he’s not even 30. And our chef driven restaurants, our artisanal cocktail makers, our breweries, our bakeries, these are all in the first rank, nationally. But why?
Why? Why? Why?
I think I might know. I think it has nothing to do with the secret sauce in the coolers. I think it has to do with secret sauce behind the scenes, namely something about entrepreneurship, about the ability of our great food makers to make the leap from cooking to CEOing. So that’s what our next Tastemakers conversation will be about! July 17, at the Ritz Theater I’ll gather four of the most interesting food-world entrepreneurs in the area to what I think of as a giant cocktail party, where you can come and sample their wares, and listen to a lively hour of conversation in which I try to get the secrets to the secret sauce. This time, our wonderful notables:
Scott Davis and Paul Werni will be pouring some of their news-making bourbon and vodka from 45th Parallel Distilling, and will talk about what it took to get a distillery off the ground. Davis, of course, was a principal behind one of the Twin Cities most game-changing restaurants of its era, Auriga, and is a force behind one of the cities’ best wine bars, Toast. How did Davis and Werni go from Black Label drinking U of M roommates to national game-changers?
Michelle Gayer of Salty Tart. Michelle Gayer is an Iowa girl who went to Chicago and made a national reputation for herself as Charlie Trotter’s pastry genius. She could have worked for Trotter or similar Michelin starred restaurants, forevermore, with assistants, a 401K, and periodic pastry-eating trips to Vienna and Paris. Instead, she heard her own scones calling her, so to speak, and came to Minneapolis to live life without a safety net. How good is she? She was nominated for a James Beard Award for best chef Midwest this year—and the woman doesn’t have a single table, only a counter-service bakery in a crowded urban market. How do you find the courage to follow your own unknown path, when people you love and admire will bend over backwards to make a comfy home for you?
Steven Brown of Tilia has the most stirring underdog story in Minnesota cooking: Chef at well reviewed The Local, until it changed concept; Chef at liked-for-the-food Rockstar, until it shuttered in the night; Chef at nationally noticed Café Levain, until it changed concept; leader of nationally lauded Porter & Frye, for the brief months before it collapsed its kitchen in response to national financial turmoil . . . you get the idea. Brown led half a dozen well-admired restaurants in a decade, and filed for unemployment as many times. And then he went out on his own, with a tiny restaurant in Linden Hills called Tilia, and now it’s the toughest table in Minneapolis, as popular as walking upright, and an unqualified success. What part of success is becoming comfortable with risk, and failure?
These questions need to be answered! So come to the Ritz on July 17, drink bourbon from 45th Parallel, eat treats from Tilia and Salty Tart, and find out what it takes to make the leap from creative employee to creative food business success story. Tickets are only $10! Or you have a chance to win two tickets by commenting below with your answer to this question: What’s one of your favorite local small food business products? 45th Parallel New Richmond Rye? Salty Tart crackeroons? Tilia Wild Acres chicken? Or something else entirely? A winner will be chosen and announced in the comments section at noon on Monday, July 8.
And I hope to see you there, this is going to be one fun, smart, tasty cocktail party. Come?