Locally Grown

I Heard A Rumor…
2010/04/28, 2:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


First off here I would like to address a few issues brought up by you tens of readers and my editor, Bathory (who’s job is on the line due to budget cuts and incessant napping throughout the “work” day).

1. Helpfulness- ok, I got it meow. Uh, now. From here on if there is an actual factual piece of information such as an address or hours of operation I will do us all a favor and list it. As Bathory put it in our latest late-night sense-talking-into session, “Why would meow send people to another site meow find information they could see right meow?” And to this I say “OK.”

2. My Employment As A Writer- Many of you out there (3 or 4. Or maybe 4 or 3) will be shocked to find out that I do not get paid in any way to write this little gem. Every so often I someone will recognize me and proffer up a drink, once I scored a free sandwich. I guess that with reader sponsorship I have earned about fifteen bucks. VERY LUCRATIVE. So while you food writer(s) are out there telling me what a hack “job” I am doing with the fact checking and whatnot, the only support I have on this end is a fat orange cat who naps all day with one paw over his eyes because he can’t bear to watch me write yet another factually taint(ed) piece of literary filth, foul mouthing foodies.

3. Seitan Banh Mi- Some of you who know me in the non-cyberspace real world know of my Vegan-izing of culinary classics. One of these classics is a seitan Banh Mi. I am currently without a restaurant to host said sandwich so I leave at least two of you a little dissapointed. I am in talks with a few places and it may be a reality sometime this summer, or as said before if enough people are interested I could whip up a few. Oh, the Pate is mushroom based.

Ok, I hope that clears up a few issues for those of you with concerns.

And now for the (not-so) rumors…

Cafe Di Scala will be hosting a “Beatles Brunch” the first Sunday of each month beginning this Sunday, May 2nd at 10am. Reservations may be a smart move. They are located at 644 18th St. In Sherman Hill. http://www.cafediscala.com

Chef George Formaro will be featuring Mexican street food at his booth at the Downtown Farmer’s Market (which begins THIS SATURDAY).

Chef Hal Jasa is still working on opening his spot, Homage, which will feature almost exclusively locally grown meats/vegetables/dairy.

A certain local food blogger may be teaming up with a local grower for something special.

Sake 21 was shut down due to having too much fun and has been replaced with Hoshi (23rd&University, DSM).

And finally, has anyone heard what Jeremy Morrow has been doing? That has been the number two question I have been asked, right below “how long did it take to grow that beard?”

Well, it’s time for me to once again do something other than pollute the Blog-o-Sphere.

Cochon555 Coverage Aftermath Style
2010/04/26, 11:42 pm
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Congratulations to Matt Steigerwald of Lincoln Cafe in Mt. Vernon, Iowa for winning the coveted “Prince Of Pork” title for the second year in a row. Matt and his crew will be traveling to Aspen, Colorado to compete with other winners from around the country at the Food&Wine magazine Aspen Classic Cochon çhampionship. They will have a chance to hang with Jaques, Giada, Mario, Tom C., and other food luminaries. Sounds fun! We here at Locally Grown wish Chef Matt and his Team all the best when representing the #1 pork producing state in the world in Colorado.

Good Job.

Now as you may recall, I was on self-assigned assignment to LiveBlog the Cochon555 event. This did not happen. Not even a little bit. After spending tens of minutes typing emails and texts, having local celebrities text organizers, and other assorted tomfoolery, hoping to get a free pass to cover the event (and nearly securing a judge’s spot) I was called upon by a friend, Chef Hal Jasa of the soon-to-be realized restaurant Homage. Hal was down a crew member and invited me to come help. So instead of spending time spitting out words I turned out plates, 11 courses on 3 plates for 22 judges. Oh, in one hour. It was a great time punctuated by Templeton Rye, laughter, quenelles of heart pate, liquid nitrogen pork ice cream, Two Dudes in D&G glasses, meeting new friends, and the clearest pork consume I have ever seen. The work kept me, thankfully, from boring you to death every 15 minutes from 4pm to 9pm Saturday. It did not, however, keep me from having a grand old time with some great friends.

Cochon isn’t just a contest for chefs, it is also a showcase for local wine and brewers, with a special visit from Tempelton Rye, Mad House Brewery, and Madrigal Wines to name a few.

As soon as I find my notes, look forward to part 3…

Kudos to all the chefs, wineries, judges, and heritage pigs that took part in Cochon555.

A Brief Break For Cochon555 Coverage
2010/04/24, 7:29 pm
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So, as promised yesterday, I have managed to infiltrate the Des Moines edition of Cochon555 (tickets are still available) which begins at 4pm or something today at the Esteemed Hotel Fort Des Moines (10th and Walnut).

Cochon= Pig
555= 5 piggies, 5 chefs, 5 local wineries.

This event is held in multiple cities around the country to celebrate the Heritage Pig (breeds which have existed without cross breeding for 50 or more years), Local Chefs, and Local Wine. I like local.

Here are our Chefs…

First the “not local” competition

MATT STEIGERWALD, Lincoln Cafe, Mt. Vernon, IA.
Matt is the reigning champion from Cochon555 2009. I look forward to seeing what he does this year.

CODY HOGAN, Lidia’s, Kansas City.

Chef De Cuisine at Lidia’s, as in Lidia Bastianich of the television program Lidia’s Italy.

HOWARD HANNA, River Club, Kansas City.

Executive chef for the “Multimillion Dollar Country Club” River Club.

And now for our hometown heroes…

HAL JASA, Homage, Des Moines.

The “Underground Chef” and mad scientist has a good chance to claim the “Prince of Pig” title this year.
GEORGE FORMARO, Django, Centro, Gateway Market, South Union Bakery, South union Deli, Des Moines

George is a man obsessed with food. He has done “Snout to Tail” whole hog dinners at Centro. If you don’t know who he is, you may have had your nose stuck in the corner of your closet for the last decade.

I will be updating throughout the event, so stay tuned.

Tossing The Hot Potato, Going Long Pt.1

Today I am a little upset.

I was told long ago that you can’t make up your own nick-name, you have to EARN it. You earn it by living up to it. As a child I was called Sammoth the Mammoth because I was a chubby kid and lived up to it every day. I didn’t just come out to recess one day and say “hey guys, I was thinking you should all call me Sammoth the Mammoth because it would be cool.” Nope, a friend of mine saw my mammoth sized proportions and processed my appearance into an appropriate name which caught on and was used in reference to me for a number of years. I EARNED IT. (Conversely at the age of 22 I decided to call myself “Sammy Chaos” wich did not stick, thankfully)

All five of you out there are probably asking yourself right now what the hell this has to do with local dining or food at all (other than my obvious life-long love for overeating). Well, our lesson today involves a word that people have drug down to the level of a self-proclaimed nick-name.


Chef is a word thrown out inapropriately more often that PET plastic water bottles. It seems that in this day of Food Networking, Travel channeling, self-important, sometimes delusional cooks (home or professional) any joebob weilding a recipe card feels the need to call themselves a chef.

To be a chef is a wonderful and maddening thing. It requires love, dedication, years of experience, and a level of knowledge far beyond what the average non-restaurant person could comprehend as needed just to “cook some food.” There are great triumphs and other days your newest creation hits the trash can in frustration. This is a job of managing cooks, labor, food cost, customer relations, menus, dealing with the requests of owners/investors, possibly wrestling with the expectations catering directors have falsely given customers, and trying to please as many people as possible so as to have a successful restaurant. Bottom line is this : Creativity, Thick skin, Methodical, ability to take shit, dish it out, motivate and train. No wonder it has one of the highest burn-out rates!

Now, many people out there call themselves Chef, lowering the title to the status of self-made nickname.
You have the restaurateur who has a few cookbooks and may base their menu entirely and verbatim from other peoples’ hard work and recipes. (Sometimes even from ONE SINGLE BOOK!) Culinary Plagiarism is a fraud and this type of person is not a chef.
There is also the overeager cook whom sees fit to refer to themselves as a chef even though the closest they have come to a hot line is dropping off some prep they were “cheffing” in the back. After work they are talking all about what a chef they are.
Then you have “Culinary Parasites” whom employ good chefs to open their restaurants, let them get a good system going, then fire them, steal their recipes, call the whole operation theirs and Viola! Look at the new chef. Never worked in a kitchen, now a chef. It’s a miracle!
The guy at home with a penchant for grilling – Chef
Lady opening up cans and dumping them in a casserole dish ala Rachel Ray – Chef
Kid straight out of culinary school who can barely run a salad station – Chef
Line cook at HyVee deli – Chef
Bar owner with 2 cook books and a convection – chef

Do you understand what I am getting at here? Someone watching the afformentioned Ms. Ray hacking up stewed tomatoes in a can with kitchen shears suddenly gets the epiphany “what if I add some basil, onion, garlic, stock, and cream to those tomatoes and maybe some salt and pepper then call it soup?) WHAMMO! Chef.

The press picks up on this b.s. and polinates it like little hunny beez. “Chef Blah Blah of Bloop Has done it again with their inventive use of blah blah blah” The person I refer to is not a chef, but the uninformed will back up the claim.

Sometimes these perpetrators even get nominated for awards.


The Doctor Is In.
2010/04/21, 3:33 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I am back from my trek and ready to something. New post tomorrow.

Out of the office…
2010/04/17, 11:45 pm
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It looks like I have MADE SOME BIG MESSES that need some attention! Oh Stuff! Unfortunately I am out of the office until Tuesday, April 20th so this blog will just have to be the proverbial outhouse with sh!t piling up.

I will throw out one apology to any luminaries or other readers whom I misguided regarding Banh Mi being (not) sold at Pho Hadao. I am very sorry to have slipped on my facts, as I trusted t someone’s word and didn’t ride the Cookmobile (My Bicycle) over and investigate myself. That is poor technique and the further I get into writing the less I can use the “oh, I’m not a writer excuse.” I understand that any true writer worth their salt would be as incensed about such folly as I would be if I came over to their house for Osso Bucco and they DIDN’T BOTHER BROWNING THE SHANKS leaving you with some kinda tasty, gray, boiled meat which is pretty much them leading me on a wild goose chase for a great classic dish but instead showing their POOR TECHNIQUE AND GENERAL MISUNDERSTANDING OF COOKING WHICH HAPPENS TO BE MY CHOSEN PROFESSION. Of course, no one has actually invited me over for dinner, but I constantly invite people to read my words and I should REALLY DO IT CORRECTLY OR JUST GO BOIL SOME MEAT (or vegetables if you are so inclined)

Ok, I am saying too much for being “out of the office.”

I am sorry, so is Bathory. I will return after I figure out how to ride my bike another 131.78 miles back to Les Moines, which will hopefully be before Tuesday.


The Meat Boiler of Writers.

Sandwich Sarcasm From Little ol (Banh) Mi?
2010/04/14, 12:59 pm
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In a recent blog post by our illustrious Datebook Diner, she “gets down” with one of the greatest sandwiches invented since the invention of sandwiches, the Vietnamese/French delight Bahn Mi. She even takes a little advice from your humble Cook and hits Pho All Seasons (I would eat here just because of the witty name, but luckily the food is good) which has top notch Banh Mi.
She loved it.

History Break:

The Banh Mi (pronounced “bun ME”) is a Vietnamese sandwich named for the crusty-ish French baguette (actually named Banh Mi) it is served on and usually includes Pate (very French), pickled vegetables (often including carrots, Japanese radish (Daikon), peppers, and onions), Aioli, cilantro, cucumber, and some sort of pork. The sandwich has its origins, if my memory serves me correctly, in the French occupation of the Southeast Asia territory in the late 1800s to the mid-1900’s. The French brought bread and pate into the region which was combined with local staples such as pickles and pork. Did I mention that they are super inexpensive? Well, they are!

I know a guy whom also does a Vegan Banh Mi with braised Seitan. Ask me about it sometime.

Then she asks for advice on where to go for her next Bahn Mi adventure. Herein lies the problem.

How has a critic who has been eating, writing, and passing judgement in Des Moines for TWELVE YEARS managed to avoid eating what evidently really is the city’s BEST KEPT FOOD SECRET? Hmmm. Doesn’t add up. I wouldn’t blame the average person for not knowing about this treat, but would definitely expect a Foodie Veteran to be on top of this. NOT TO MENTION that the Banh Mi has been listed along side Korean food as a TOP FOOD TREND FOR THIS DECADE. C’mon, sista! Get with it!

There are plenty of outlets for your Bahn Mi needs, the afformentioned Pho All Seasons on east 9th a few blocks south of University, Le’s Chinese BBQ on 2nd avenue north of University, Mekong Deli (top secret, you have to find this one on your own), Paris Cafe just north of Le’s (which serves their sandwich with homemade liverwurst and head cheese!), New Oriental Market serves them from a carryout case, as does Double Dragon. Pho Hadao and I believe Lucky Dragon also dish up their version of the Banh Mi. There are more, but the real fun is asking around and finding that next Pate-smeared fix for yourself.

So, now that you all know a little more about a sandwich most of my friends obsess over, buying 6 or 8 at a time, go out and spread the word or just try it for yourself. And for all of you Vegetarian/Vegans who are interested, contact me and we will talk about the Veggie Banh Mi.

Oh, and maybe someone could pass this info on to the Food Writer crowd (not Food Dude, though. He is an in-the-know cat).


The Cook

Locally Grown Top 20 Food Critics Edition Results!!!
2010/04/12, 9:18 pm
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(Yesterday’s version of this blog was fouled by someone’s lack of editorial expertise. Our regular editor is back today and has fixed the problem)

This is it, the moment you haven’t been waiting for but none-the-less have stumbled upon and/or been sucked into! It it time for the LG20 Food Critics edition.

Here’s how it worked: A small number of individuals who either are Pro Food Writers, Semi-pro Food Writers, or whom I feel are qualified to exert their opinion on local dining were contacted via e-mail asking for a list of the Top 20 Restaurants in the Des Moines Dining Scene. I was assured by most that their list could change from day to day due to new restaurant openings, chef/management changes, and changes in overall dining experience (service/food/prices on internet menus). I like that some of the selected get out and do this on their own dime, that shows some real loyal dedication to eating locally. I also have respect for those who have expense accounts and get paid to write, having the dedication to spend years sampling all menus good and bad as they pop up in our fair Whack-a-Mole of restaurants. I know these people “keep it real” while dining on their own dime. Thank you for that dedication.

I promised to keep all personal lists anonymous so there will be no razzing of certain individuals for their choices (Sorry, DD).

Now, let’s stop all this boring nonsense and get to the point!

This, my tens of readers, is what I like to call the

“Locally Grown Ocaisionally Awarded Top 20 Restarants Food Critics’ Edition”

1. Centro
2. Django
3. Cafe Di Scala

The top three were practically unanimous, occupying almost every list. These are as one reviewer put it “the go-to spots for almost any occaision.”

4. Bistro Montage
5. Alba
6. Sam&Gabes
7. Azalea
8. Sbrocco
9. Miyabi 9
10. La Pizza House
11. Open Sesame
12. Star Bar
13. Adong
14. La Pena
15. Lucky Dragon
16. Gateway Market Cafe
17. Tandoor
18. Dos Rios
19. La Rosa
20. La Mie

These are the top 20 restaurants our food reviewers and other experts would have you visit. This is a pretty wide swath (although a little Italiocentric) of the cuisines served up in this town. Go forth and sample the fine food at all of these establishments.

Some Honorable Mentions: Namaste, Le’s Chinese BBQ, Pho All Seasons, Art Center Cafe, Woody’s Smoke Shack, and Le Jardin.

There it is in all of its glorious grandosity.

If you would like me to list more information on each restaurant, please complain in the comments and I will get right on it. OR since you are probably on the internet, use your favorite search engine to find each spot then bookmark it.

Xxx ooo

The Cook

From The Cellar Crept…

I promised myself to quit promising myself to do things a long time ago, right after I swore to never change (after reading some old yearbooks and listening to Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” on repeat).

Fast forward/rewind to yesterday, April 8th. As I stood in the basement of the Polk County Courthouse during a tornado drill mulling over what to write next week the promise and the swear cancelled each other out causing me to promise to change. This blog will be updated at least twice weekly (not including holiday tidings). This is a big change and as it is in print, it kinda stands as a promise. I relish the moments we have together each week and AT LEAST doubling those good times sounds like a win/win sitch for everyone (except you, the reader). So look for posts on Modays and Thursdays and possibly some other days.

Moving on, I am pleased to see our Illustrious Datebook Diner has taken my advice and started her Bahn Mi quest. (Also pleased to see that darn witty blog title!) The Diner wants some more help finding DesMoines’ illusive and illustrious Vietnamese “delicacy.” I have the lockdown on pretty much every Bahn Mi in town but would like you, my tens of readers, to throw out some ideas. You can leave you suggestions here, or email them directly to the DD at Datebookdiner@aol.com. Help this Francophile undestand what happened when the French got imperial all over Southeast Asia’s um…butts. Also, maybe someone could offer up some photography advice/lessons. DD Needs help, or maybe for GANNET to assign her a dedicated photographer. “Arturo, whatcha doin for lunch?”

And Furthermore, I will have the results of the long awaited and possibly long forgotten Locally Grown Occaisionally Awarded Top 20 Food Critics Edition Poll. You won’t be shocked by the results, the results will be shocked by you (reading them).

Randomly Yours,

The Cook.

Happy Post Easter Post

Thank you to all who have taken minutes out of your days to read my words, laugh at/with me, and question/comment on my opinions. You really know how to make a boy feel special.

As we dine on carrots and variously shaped chocolates in honor of the Eastern Rabbit today, let us remember what is important: Loving your family and friends, lovingly prepared food, and a respect for your neighbors and their beliefs. Today let go of your angst and let us all nibble on the carrot of peace as this loveable, well-traveled beast would.


The Cook and Family