Filed under: Local Food Commentary | Tags: Brady Lowe, Brianne Sanchez, Cochon 555, Eric Bechard, Juice, Timber Pine, Willamette Weekly
So by now most of you have probably heard about the Great PDX Cochon 555 Fracas of 2010 incident involving, among other folks, event owner and promoter Brady Lowe and Portland Douche/Celebrity Chef Eric Bechard. I really had no intention of ever writing about this as I feel strongly that Supreme Immaturity such as this should not be rewarded with words and face it, these mug shots are worth at least a thousand words apiece:
Luckily Kelly Clarke of the Willamette Week Online, Portland’s Ultimate Fighting Guide to Chef Competitions, has done as bang up of a job at covering the Douche Bowl as Chef Eric Bechard has making himself look like the Biggest Loser. You can read Clarke’s original post here, and then the subsequent update with police report commentary here.
I think that everyone involved in the “Fracas” should get a standing ovation.
Now, as far as the Des Moines or DMI or DSM or whatever you prefer, Cochon 555 finale here, I was quoted in this week’s Juice (DSM’s answer to all things for the Children of the Corn Age Demographic) as to the future of Cochon555 contestant and local chef Hal Jasa’s planned restaurant, Homage. The last time I spoke with Chef Jasa about his plans it included the East Village. I cannot at this time confirm nor deny his interest in that neighborhood. I DO confirm that I wuold like this restaurant to get off the ground soon.
Speaking of new restaurants…
OH, I should probably wait on that little chestnut of information.
Until next time, go to the TimberPine web site and steal my Cilantro Pesto recipe.
Filed under: Vegetarian Dining | Tags: A-dong, des moines, Fresh Cafe, Gateway Market Cafe, Locust Tap, Slight Ranger, vegetarian, whoops
Yesterday I took a chance posting from my new platform (a netbook) in a new location (Downtown Public Library). One or both of these factors contributed to the deportation of over half the post to a place famous for breeding mysterious professional wrestlers…PARTS UNKNOWN. The result was a rant about being vegetarian in DSM(DMI) and a small blurb about ONE RESTAURANT, which probably seems to some readers as pretty normal behavior on my part. Not the case. Today I will attempt to recapture the magic lost at the Public Library yesterday (just MY particular magic, not the other magic I witnessed being lost during my library-ular stay).
Ok, here we go…
THE LOST LOST TRIBE…STUFF.
I think that starting semi-fresh would be the way to stay today. I have a new location (The Incredible Locust Tap…great Wifi) and a new attitude. Before we get back to the nuts and boltz of the situation, I would like to address the ONE comment left by a reader “Christa” from Tuesday’s mishap of a post. Christa sez…
“I’ve found Des Moines to be surprisingly veggie-friendly, so long as you stay away from the obvious non-herbivorous spots (BBQ places, steak houses, Machine Shed, etc). I’ve also found that any place that *doesn’t* have obvious vegetarian choices will usually be willing to whip up something special if you ask nicely (and tip well).”
First I would like to thank Christa for her comment. I value your opinion and readership. Thank you, Christa. Now, Christa, I wouldn’t call Our Fair City Veggie Friendly. I think of it more as Veggie Tolerant. Des Moines lacks the restaurant, co-op, and general support that a good vegetarian friendly city enjoys. Whole Foods (the Wal-Mart of natural food stuffs) has done a series of studies in DSM and has determined that we will not be ready for a Whole Foods/Co-op or a vegetarian restaurant for 5 or more years. I call bullshit on that study, the people I talk to on a daily basis are ready for a real Co-op (ala New Pioneer in Iowa City) and a true sit-down vegetarian/vegan dining experience. Iowa City has been blessed with The Red Avocado, the aforementioned New Pioneer Co-Op, and Masala (vegetarian Indian cuisine). Des Moines has Ritual Cafe and Fresh Cafe (1721 25th street, West Des Moines) which are great in their own right, but we lack a dining experience akin to one you can find even in smaller cities like Laramie, WY of all places. (Anyone want to step up to the plate?)Yes, we also have Campbell’s and New City Market (hey guys, see you for some Gluten soon), but nothing that compares in size to New Pi. We even have a few Raw Foodist Chefs including Sherri Clark (what up!). A few chefs have done what they can to raise awareness/fight the fight of vegetarian cuisine in fine dining, namely George Formaro and yours truly (I know, lame self-service) but Des Moines is still in the Vegetarian Dark Ages in comparison to the rest of the country. Vegetarian Tolerant. Remember that phrase.
Now, in response to Christa’s claim that you can just show up and get vegetarian food wherever and reader Maria’s question as to why she can’t get vegetarian dishes unless is all about the cream and cheese (or cream cheese in La Mie’s case). Here is the proper way to go about dining out at a locally owned fine dining (or casual dining) restaurant.
- Don’t be afraid to use the telephone: If you know in advance that you will be dining at a particular restaurant and you have special dietary requirements, call during off-peak hours (maybe in the morning before lunch or between 2-4pm) and ask about the menu. Let the person on the phone know what you desire (don’t ask for Thai food in an Italian joint though) and what limitations you have. If you are REALLY afraid of calling, try e-mail, but it isn’t the recommended protocol.
- Be serious about being serious about calling: Don’t procrastinate, if you need special attention from the chef/cook staff the worst way to go about it is to just show up for your reservation and expect the green carpet rolled out for you. As a chef, I am always up for the challenge but always appreciate when people make it a little less challenging by giving a little fair warning. Extra time gives the chef a chance to formulate a game plan and maybe pick some supplies up from the store. Small kitchens/restaurants have small menus and keep a small stock of provisions usually tailored toward their current menu.
- Seriously, call ahead: or maybe visit if you are in the neighborhood.
That’s how it is done. Now, as far as casual places or chains go, you are at the mercy of your own creativity. Look at what is on the menu and deviate where necessary. One major word of caution is CHICKEN STOCK. Wait, that’s two words. There are a few soups out there that contain chicken stock that you wouldn’t suspect. Two culprits off the top of my head are the house soups at Centro and South Union Cafe. The tomato-basil-tortellini soup and the Potato Pepperjack are, to my knowledge (I used to make it on a daily basis and tried to change the recipe to no avail) still being made with chicken stock. You really have to watch for this. I was drug off to the Quiznos on Grand Ave for lunch one day and the staff there went way out of there way to check with some higher up office as to whether their soup du jour was fowl-free. It wasn’t, and I was saved from a few extra trips to the rest room that day. Thank you, ladies.
We do have a number of Vegetarian-Friendly restaurants in the city. My original post yesterday contained some blurbs about a few of them, but we all know what happened with that little chestnut of info. Here is another short list, sans blurbs but with the normally absent location information, of a few of my recommended restaurants.
Fresh Cafe, 1721 Twenty Fifth Street Suite 110, West Des Moines 515 440 4700 This place was recommended to me by the cast of Lion King when they were in town. Fresh Vegan and Vegetarian fare including catering, and fresh Wheat Grass shots.
Gateway Market Cafe, 2002 Woodland Avenue, Des Moines 515 243 1754 Gateway has not only a cafe with clearly marked vegetarian menu items, but a hot case, cold case, grab-n-go, and entire grocery section with plenty of veggie items. If you can’t decide where to eat, it is a pretty good spot to end your hapless hunting.
Ritual Cafe, 1301 Locust St, Des Moines 515 288 4872 Refer back to here for the info.
A-Dong, 1511 High Street, Des Moines 515 284 5632 Good, basic Vietnamese cuisine with a seperate Vegetarian menu. Best Veggie Eggrolls (1C) in town.
These are just a few of the places I will be talking about over the next few weeks (Note: this will not be pre-empting my normal bull-honkery).
Eat Your Vegetables,
Filed under: restaurant reviews, Vegetarian Dining | Tags: A-dong, fine dining, Gateway Market Cafe, Ritual Cafe, vegetables, vegetarian, why does the library block wordpress
I have been meaning to address the Vegetarian/Vegan scene (or lack thereof) here in Des Moines for quite some time now. We have seen the local food-writing (pro, am, or reluctant) attempt to put in their two cents…to varied degrees of unsuccess. Let’s face it, writing about a subject you know little about is a very daunting task (I once tried to write an article about horse training. Laughable) and any effort made to inform the Citizenry of the DSM(DMI) of their vegetarian dining options prior to this point in history should be applauded. Kinda.
I have spent all but 6 months of my time in Des Moines living in the vegetarian and vegan realm and have experienced just about all of the joys and frustrations this city has to offer. Being Veggie is very frustrating from a dining out standpoint. Many times you are an outcast, an inconvenience, a dining anomaly to the people preparing or serving your food. Conversely, once in a while you find a place that really gets what you are going for (which is NOT just a plate of bland, over-cooked steamed vegetables) which is seriously a pleasant surprise. For all of you non-vegetarians out there, imagine your eating habits and lifestyle being constantly questioned. I hope this is making sense. For once.
So with that said, this will be an ongoing series for all of you Veg or Veg-curious folks looking to do a little dining out. I welcome any input from you tens of readers out there. I know you just want my opinion, but lets make this about community. Isn’t that what eating is all about?
With all of that said, let’s get down to some real information. Here is a short list off the top of my head of local spots that do a good job of catering to Veg-folk directly from their menus.
1. Ritual Cafe, 1301 Locust St. 288-4872 This is DEMoynes’ only vegetarian-only spot. It’s the ONLY place in town where the menu is sans-meat. Ritual is a coffee shop that serves an assortment of Panini, Quiche, baked goods, and a darn fine Hummus. No meat. ever. Did I mention this is the ONLY ALL-VEGETARIAN PLACE IN recommend you support them, because they are carrying the torch for the rest of you.
Thank you wordpress for not publishing the other 600 words in this post. I have about f*cking had it with this. I apologize for the truncated post. I was not intending on only listing Ritual Cafe, although it would have mad for a great short list. i will attempt to post a revision listing the missing information later. It’s break time.
Filed under: Uncategorized
We all make mistakes and I make them constantly. As my editor is currently suspended, the facts on that last news related article were not checked. Yes, an incorrect link was listed for my contribution to the Timber Pine web site leading to all of you to be sent on a wild goose chase. All apologies. Here is the proper link:
Again, very sorry. Almost as sorry as this guy
Until some other point in our joint time line,
Filed under: Uncategorized
First off today I would like to thank all of you who take time from your reading of other, more important publications such as US Weekly (always MY #1 news source) or anything owned by Gannett (my last resort) and spending that time with me. Seriously, I appreciate the readership, comments, and feedback. So…Thank You. I wouldn’t do it without you.
A SUPER BIG THANKS TO MY GOOD FRIEND AND FELLOW CYCLIST CRAIG L. FOR HIS SUPPORT OF THIS BLOG. Craig recently provided me with a laptop which will enable me to stretch this thing out a little bit. You see, I have written this blog solely on my HTC G1 Android phone with the WordPress To Go app up until this very post. Honestly, it gets pretty tiring tip tap typing away the day, thumbing my nose while thumbing my phone. Craig, you are a bad ass and I owe you big time. This means more photos, links, and fun. I think it will refered to as being “feature rich” or something. There are also two gentelmen out there who have volunteered to do some design (you know who you are) who I will be hitting up soon.
Some other fun news:
Timber Pine Nursery has chosen me to partner with them to provide recipes and tips for gardeners wanting to get the most out of their summer bounty. Check it out at www.timberpine.com
I have been interviewed, photogged, and further pressly treated by none other than Juice. Thank you Brianne “Falafel” Sanchez and Eric Rowley for the fun times. I am not sure when it “drops” or whether it is internet-only or in actual real-time print (I really tried to ask as few questions as possible, I LOVE SUPRISES), but I am sure it will be a hoot. I have suspended all griping about Juice food reviews until the article hits the stands.
Speaking of suspended…this morning I awoke to Bathory performing what seemed to be some kind “Feline Breath Stealing Ritual” on Mrs. The Cook. He has been put on administative leave pending investigation of this particular superstition. He claims he was just out of breath from jumping on the bed. Doubtful.
Last Wednesday a small group of chef-types took some time off to get out and “Get Frenched.” (Thanks for the rediculous ad campaign, Django). It’s a rare treat to enjoy a great dinner (Especially of this caliber) together with my fellow chefs rather than cook for others, so we made a real night of it.
The Targets: Bistro Montage and Baru66.
The Diners: Three Dudes with Appetites for Deconstruction.
The Goal: Get “Frenched”? (Although those ads are slightly funny, they pretty low-rent)
You are probably expecting me to give some Looooong synopsis on what went down during our outing, but I only offer this:
Cue up “New Kid In Town” by The Eagles
First stop was Baru66. The food was amazing, especially or first course and the Chef’s Amuse Buche offering for the night, Asparagus Creme Brule. The Stuffed Quail was also a standout along with both Pate’s we sampled. The atmosphere was a little cold for my taste and sorely lacking Newly-Crowned Chef Leon, but the food…oh the food. Lovely, precise, spot-on flavors, perfectly executed technique. Great Job, David, Mike, Bri, Nick, and Kelly. Pricing is as you would expect to pay for French Food of this Caliber, and if I had an expense account I would find reasons to review this place twice a month (also, if I was in fact a reviewer-type)
Second Stop, The Alpine to cleanse our palates then on to our Final French Destination:
Bistro Montage was in wind down mode, and we barely caught chef Enosh Kelley before he trotted off for the night (not to be confused with “foffing off”). Our server Ben readied a table as we talked shop with Enosh and verbally assaulted some familiar faces in the kitchen. The place was populated by a few tables of VERY happy people (always a good sign) who were swearing like baseball coaches and enjoying the evening. Enosh joined us and taught a little impromptu class on Sous Vide cooking and its benefits. The food here was also amazing. Sous Vide Pork Belly, super fresh vegetables, amazing pate’s (I was dining with a Pate Hound), great flavors and technique. We stayed a little late while finishing some bottles of wine and chatting with the staff. Overall a very warm, comforting experience that left us all as friends (our server even joined us at Carl’s for the post-game). We left as the patrons before us that night, happy, full, satisfied, and swearing quite a bit.
There has been talk of Baru Vs. Montage buzzing around the food scene since weeks before Baru’s opening and I would like to set the record straight-ish. In the words of one of my dining partners,
“The only losers in this are the people who don’t eat at both places”
Top notch job, everyone. Now go out and get…
Some beautiful french food. You deserve it.
I was recently contacted by a Very Nice Young Lady who is in the employ of a local weekly publication with a request to sit down for a bite to eat and a little Q’n'A session. It will be out sometime soon, and I seriously expect this to be a “reviewer retribution” type situation.
Great questions, a nice lunch at a local spot, and a chance for me to REALLY think about what the crap the whole point of this ranting and raving BS is trying to accomplish.
My question is this: What do you, my tens of readers, get out of this whole mess of run-on sentences and feline-regulated smart-assedness?
I can tell you what I get: some great comments, a few laughs, one free lunch, and 3 beers. Total satisfaction. Feels like living in a Foghat song.
More Tomorrow…all about French Food Hopping DSM (or DMI) Style.
Live from Carl’s Place,
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: datebook diner, forks, iron maiden, wednesday gripes
Grumpy, rainy Wednesdays do nothing for creativity. My sheepish dog has been up panting all night due to the thunderstorm, and that pizza pinwheel roll I ate at 11pm is causing more harm than help. So…here it comes, the “One And Done Wednesday Gripes Awards.”
First off, a “well known food editor” (only known as “R”) and friend of our Illustrious Datebook Diner posed a question regarding keeping his fork during a fine dining meal and whether Des Moines is the only city this in which happens. DD states that even though our “R” friend has been in Our Fair City for an adequate time to understand its workings (and being a FOOD EDITOR should probably heighten his awareness of its restaurantly ways), that she still needs to explain how things work in the DSM. Balderdash! You can’t figure out why your fork is being stranded at your wrist-side as its companion plates and other silver are whisked off to the dish pit? (Fine dining, fork replaced at each course. Who left it behind? Was it a server?) Ok. You win. Another victory for Des Moines Food Critique-ist Elite.
Secondly, I would like to say a big LOCALLY GROWN YOU’RE WELCOME to said Datebook Diner for being the catalyst for her Banh Mi discovery. Flipside, I would like to thank her for reviewing Lucky Dragon in last week’s datebook. That dining establishment desereves and received a nice write up. Now who’s next?
I received a weird comment on my Farmer’s market review that was labeled as spam but was a “ping back.” It seems some people on Twitter thought poorly of my take on a grumpy Saturday morning spent being jostled and jammed up by 30,000 market goers. I admit, huge fan of local food (duh), not a fan of crowds of 30,000. (I even get a little queasy during screenings of Iron Maiden’s “Rock In Rio” when the cameras pan out over that crowd of 180,000 screaming fans)
On a not-so-gripey note, I will be announcing a collabo with a local plant-raising facility next week. I look forward to working with them to bring readers some actual helpful information and something that reads less like the gossip collumn in US Weekly.
There are my Wednesday morning gripes, now excuse me while I go put some water in Bathory’s dish.
Also, check out the “Why Eat At A Chain Wednesday” feature over at
I am generally sort of known more for Vegetarian Cheffery, but in the real world I am not always able to talk my employers into running amazing veggie specials as much as I would like. In the not so rare moments where I am expected to “color inside the lines,” I get to have fun with whatever ball is tossed my way. This week I got to play with some locally raised Duroc Pork belly from Iowa Farm Families based in Marshalltown, IA and some less-than-24 hour out of the water Ahi Tuna from Waterfront in West Des Moines (Thank you, Morgan)
Seared Ahi Tuna over Saffron Cous Cous with a grilled vegetable salad of Asparagus, Zucchini, carrots, and eggplant (Credit to Chef Phil Shires, I only cut the fish). (The pictured special. Turns out I didn’t get a picture of the Pork! Whoops!)
Fennel Braised Duroc Pork Belly over Panzanilla (Italian Bread and Vegetable Salad) with house made Orange-Tarragon Marmalade. (This one was all me.)
Sold out of both, everyone was smiling.
A good time was had by all.
Cafe Di Scala
644 18th St. Des Moines, IA
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Chef Leon, cochon555, Cody Hogan, Django, Gateway Market, George Formaro, Hal Jasa, Howard Hanna, Matt Steigerwald, Raccoon River Brewing Co.
As promised, I have a little more Cochon555 coverage for you. Very little. So little, in fact, that it is basically just a silly story and some complaining. Maybe some fashion commentary. I am not sure yet, it hasn’t been written. Read on if the mood strikes you, if not go back to reviewing the 1000 winners of the freshly announced James Beard Foundation Awards (of which DSM nominees got a big fat goose egg. More on that later.) Bon Apertif!
You may remember a few time units back I ran a little piece on Chef vs. Not Chef vs. Total Fraud. Not long after said articled “dropped,” a situation arose which screamed, in the words of that guy on the couch in the movie P.C.U., “That’s my thesis, man…that’s my thesis!” Shortly after the Cochon555 winner Matt Steigerwald (Lincoln Cafe, Mt. Vernon, IA. Back to back wins) was announced and the victory speech was executed, the customary “Post-Game-On-Field Handshake” began. The Lincoln Cafe crew was walking through the crowd congratulating the other competetors on a “Good Game.” They walked past my team…
To Hal Jasa: “hey, great job, Chef. Good stuff.”
To Yours Truly: “nice job, Chef. Plates looked great.”
To Leon: “thank you, Chef…Good job.”
(I really wanted to “annon-o-mize” Leon, but Bathory likes his name and said it would be a shame to insult his parents’ choice of prefered nomenclature.)
Chef Leon was born! I hear that Leon can cook, is a competent server/bartender (Baru 66. Go see him), and now thanks to the power of words, He has been Knighted CHEF LEON.
You see how easy that was? All you need is someone to call you Chef accidentally and there you have it. Now, Leon doesn’t consider himself a chef but we had a good laugh about it at the after party at Racoon River Brewing Company (who kinda dropped the ball IMHO). You don’t even have to make false chef claims when you have others to do it for you. Chef Leon has no plans on continuing along his un-chosen career path as a “chef,” but rumor has it that a few others in that category here in our fair city will be plugging away as Self Proclaimed Chefs while attempting to figure out how to live up to the Title. Thank you to Chef Leon, a man with some dignity.
And now for something completely related,
I heard a rumor that Cochon555 could have used a few more tickets sold this year. True Story. The crowd seemed a little sparse and was made up of mostly attendees from last year’s Cochon event. Not a lot of new faces aside from vendors and competitors. Here are some helpful advices for the future:
1. Advertising. There was practically zero advertising for the event. It wasn’t even listed in the free events sections of our local weekly “magazines.” This IS a travelling event, but maybe should have a local “street team” to work the social media and marketing. Just a few people to create a “buz” could have gotten a few more people in the doors and enlightened as to Cochon555′s good cause (heritage farming awareness) and gotten more exposure for the Chefs and Wine Makers. (Brady, if you see this, get in touch…I know some good helpers for next year)
2. Social Networking Media. Twitter, Facebook, and the like could have been utilized more. Take it from me, it works. Also, see “street team” suggestion above.
3. Many people felt the ticket prices were too high. I disagree (even though I admit to receiving free admission both years). Face value of the tickets was a great deal…$100 for all you can eat and drink from local wineries and fine chefs (and Leon), but I overheard people scoffing. People who had no idea of what a deal this event really is. Maybe make the tickets…$80? Maybe advertise the decadence that is included with the $100 ticket price, not to mention the Extreme Decadence of the more pricey VIP tickets (free oysters from Django, Templeton Rye flowing like rivers, cheese selections from Gateway Market). People paid the same prices to see Norah Jones, and they didn’t get ANY FOOD.
5. Have the event on SUNDAY. I know at least 25 people in the industry who would have liked to attend, but could not take Saturday off. I have a feeling this was a big factor in attendance.
And another thing…Racoon River was a great choice for an after party, but not on a Saturday. At 8pm when the winner was close to being called I was out shooting the shit with the kitchen guys from Raccoon and Django and they were still ON A WAIT. Not a good sign. The top floor was promised along with some free pool tables and the first beer for free. That plan was thwarted by a busy Saturday night crowd and some possibly poor communication on the Brewery’s management part. The cochon party was relegated to the downstairs bar and a few tables under the stairs. It is questionable whether anyone really needed more drinks at this point in the evening, but the free pool tables would have been nice for some more friendly competition and fun times. Bad night to attempt a private party at a super busy restaurant. Maybe Chequers in the Hotel Ft. Des Moines would have been a wiser choice.
A few more highlights:
Best Kept Secret Food…Chef Jasa’s Liquid Nitrogen Pork Ice Cream Root Beer Float. I was directing anyone asking about the giant Nitro tank to Hal’s booth for a taste of the “Judges Only” Pork Ice Cream. Anyone to cross its path immediately sprouted an “Oh Holy Shit This Is Good” expression and asked for more. Even our Illustrious Datebook Diner (historically not a Jasa Fan) got excited about it. Actually, she seemed really excited in general. Very nice.
It was great to see Jim Duncan, the Cityview Food Dude. Jim is a Belly (pork, not the band) fan from way back and seemed to be enjoying the offerings. (Jim, if you see this, stop by Friday at the Cafe for more belly).
Formaro’s tacos were “the bomb” according to one eater.
Raccoon River Brewing’s first High Point Beer offering since the percentage cap was lifted on local brewers, the Mai Bock was very good and a healthy 8 percent.
Many people have been questioning Chef Steigerwald’s presentation of Charcuterie…obviously impossible to create in one week and not from the event pig.
Chef Leon was kicking ass all over the place like Sho ‘Nuff, the original Harlem Shogun
Partying a little with Howard Hanna and his River Club Team was a good time. I should have stayed longer!
Had a nice convo with my former co-horts at Gateway Market. Sorry, I won’t be reporting on that.
MadHouse Brewery from Newton had some “dank” beers. Highly recomended.
Things I would have liked to see more of:
More use of “normal cuts” such as ribs, loins, chops for public consumption. Maybe even a grilling demo, if a proper venue was secured.
Another round of that Pozole from Lincoln Cafe last year.
What happened to the New Belgium Sponsorship? 2009 had a huge bin full of various New Belgium offerings. It was sorely missed by your humble cook this year.
Better Judges. I was in the judges room a few times and seriously question the qualifications of many of said judges to judge food of this caliber.
A “back room” hangout session for all 5 chefs to have a few drinks and get to know each other. But we will get back to the “chefs getting along” subject later.
Well, I hope you enjoyed the wrap-up of The Cochon555 for 2010. Here’s to Chefs Matt Steigerwald, Cody Hogan, Hal Jasa, George Formaro, and Howard Hanna, their awesome teams, and everyone involved in this great, fun event that will, like the wine and swine it palps, grow even better with age.
Thanks for tuning in.