Locally Grown

Sitting On The Throne Of (radio edit)

Before you confirm your thought that this blog has gone the way of the dodo or Red Dog beer, I invite you to spread your non-avian wings, pop open an extinct canine-themed beverage, and wrap your thoughts around this (like the wrapping paper that engulfed your least favorite holiday gifts):

Locally Grown is still here for you, baby.  Like a gift card that never expires,  this steamy den of drama of a blog sits comfortably in a back pocket until you or I am ready to “cash in,” and today is your lucky day (although this blog has no real value, cash our otherwise)!

We have an election coming up for secretary of agriculture.  I urge you to vote for the guy challenging the incumbent.  He is a PhD and runs a small organic grass-fed dairy among many other fine qualities.  (names have been removed to avoid potential law-suitors)

There is a Cuban restaurant in town.  I will be going there sometime soon.

Oh, Halloween is this weekend.  Please celebrate responsibly.

If you or a loved one are suffering from depression or any mental illness, please seek help.  There are people/programs out there who can help, and there is always hope.  Take care of yourself, and your life will reward you with a whole bunch of extra days of happiness.   

I can be heard, along with Chef George Formaro, on “Kitchen Insider” this Saturday at 10am on 99.1 in des moines (or lively streamed from their web site) taking about life, the love of the (food) game, and zombies.  I strongly urge you to join us as we travel to/through something something something.

Saturday is also the birthday celebration of the woman ultimately responsible for the existence of yours truly, and thusly this blog, my mother.  Mom, mad happy birthday shout-out to you!  Love you, hope this weekend treats you well!

That, my tens of friends, is all he (me) wrote.  

The Cook

Get Down, Get Down!
2010/10/22, 9:38 am
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Happy Friday, Faithful Tens!  It is a beautiful day which has so far delivered nothing but Meh news, such as some weather service stating that Iowa will be getting more snow than usual this winter.  What does that even mean at this point?  At least it’s good for a chuckle.  I also heard a report that some other stuff was going on, such as a 5 star review dropping all over a never-to-be-mentioned-here restaurant from a never-to-be-mentioned-here critic in a publication that doesn’t return my emails.   Nice job out of you, NTBMHR.  Maybe when you raise your own bar even higher, which I am quite sure you are capable of, the NTBMHC can add a sixth or seventh star to facilitate the rising greatness.  You know, regardless of the differences between myself and said place, they could in fact be a great catalyst for food-ular growth in Our Town.  See the comment left by a Mr. Clay-something on this week’s James Beard Post.  Mr. C  “breaks it on down something proper” in regards to what we will have to do in order to produce a JBA winner.

Mr. C has been “breaking it on down” for quite some time. (Tom Bosley, RIP)


I am seeing some great things starting to come together for food in 2011.  I mean REALLY exciting.

That’s it for today, gotta motor if I’m going to make it to Heather’s funeral on time.

The Cook

The French Correction
2010/10/21, 8:42 am
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There is only one good French restaurant in the DMZ.   Wait, there are none.  I leave you with this.

The Name’s Beard, James Beard (Awards)

Another Monday is upon us, greeting some of us with in warm wash of sunshine on our shoulders (which reportedly makes people happy), and climbing on the backs of others.  Whatever, it’s just Monday (although I hear Tuesday is just as bad), and it will pass.  It’s funny how even though many of us who are employed in the food industry consider ACTUAL Monday as our perceived Saturday or Sunday, Monday still holds in it’s grubby little paws the same lack of appeal and hardships as it does for those of you who are kicking it Monday through Friday style.  It could have something to do with trying to keep up with the weekend festivities that the rest of the “normal” work force are partaking in while also trying to keep our “shit” together as we work the busy, grueling (well, I hope it’s busy and grueling for everyone) Friday and Saturday shifts…and some of you REALLY lucky folks get the benefit of working Sunday Morning duh duh duuuuuuh…..Brunch.   What’s the point?  I forget, honestly.  Something about the Equal Opportunity nature of Monday’s wiles.  Um…lost it.

I heard from a local source that it is again time for The 2011 James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards nomination process to begin.  This is an exciting time of the year for Chefs around the country, as getting a JBA is akin to winning an Oscar for your food.  (I was planning on making some kind of beard joke here, but that would be disrespectful to one of the greatest culinarians…ever).  (ok, I am just going to go ahead with the joke).

Although a righteous beard, it is not the kind we are talking about here.


Personally, I don’t get very excited about the James Beard Awards, as I will never be on that level and the chances of a chef from Our Fair City nabbing the Best Chef award from the grips of someone from a larger city in our region (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI) are more than slim.  It’s still fun to watch and speculate.  Kansas City, Minneapolis, Madison, and Milwaukee all have some great chefs, so what do we have?  Here are the guidelines for the award, from the James Beard Foundation web site:

Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Candidates may be from any kind of dining establishment and must have been working as a chef for at least five years with the three most recent years spent in the region.

I think two-time Cochon555 winner Matt Steigerwald of Lincoln Cafe in Mount Vernon, Iowa is going to be my first pick.  Chef Steigerwald has decimated the competition at Cochon and managed to get a 5 star review in the Datebook.  He has definitely set both new and consistent standards in our region (especially in Iowa), and meets the time in service constraints.  His staff is knowledgeable, respectful, and super nice.  At Cochon 2008, Chef Steigerwald’s people made me a great vegetarian dinner from the ingredients they were using for the competition dishes.  Great Stuff.

Second Choice, George Formaro.  George has done more to change the face of dining in Des Moines more than any other chef/business owner in the last decade.  He is the drive behind such local favorites as South Union Bread Cafe, Django, Centro,Jorge’s Tacos (at the Downtown Farmer’s Market), and Gateway Market not to mention that his South Union Bakery makes the bread served by most of the better restaurants in central Iowa.  I would really like to see George step back from his enormous machine and take a year to operate ONLY one small (fifty=ish seats) restaurant.  I would wager that it would be quite an experience for diners and Chef Formaro alike.

Those are my choices for this year.  Who are yours?  Discuss.


The Cook

Regulators, Mount Up…For Friday News!
2010/10/15, 9:48 am
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Happy Friday!!!  It’s been a heck of a week! Dealing with egos, injuries, and economics has left your Humble-ish Cook a little frizzle fried.  Thank you to all that helped clear the path of BS as we ran the gauntlet called this week, only to land safely and soundly within the boundaries of this beautiful Friday.  In the spirit of NOT pissing in the cheerios of a few of the more sensitive readers of LG, today we will just talk news.

Tomorrow I will be appearing, once again, on George Formaro’s radio show, The Kitchen Insider which airs on KFMG 99.1 at 10 am every Saturday.  Chef Formaro and I will be discussing the local food scene, tacos, and our favorite movies to watch during the run-up to Halloween.  It will, as always, be a good time.

Super Hot Breaking News:  The New Issue of Relish has dropped.  Look for a propper tearing apart of some of its articles next week…

In the “This Is A Huge Blow To The DMZ Food Scene” department:  The heralded Heritage Pork Pride event Cochon 555 will not be returning to Our Fair City for what would have been its third year of showcasing Heritage Pork and Local Chefs.  I have not yet heard back from the event organizers as to why we are being skipped over, but a few inside sources say it is rumored to be directly related to the Meh turnout at last years event.  There is a rumor that the Cochon555 folks have just decided to skip the formalities and directly award two-time winner and Datebook 5-Star awardee Matt Steigerwald of the Lincoln Cafe in Mt. Vernon, Iowa his three-peat.  Just kidding.  I will pass on any more information as it rolls in.  Locally Grown will be traveling to one of the other Midwest cities to cover the event.

As some of you know, I have been working hard at bringing you not only the most inflamatory words and subjects in the local food scene, but also to bring you TACOS that will change your life.  Well, your Taco life.  I have secured a builder for my dream bike, the Taco Bike.  Scott Forscht of Cornfed Customs has agreed to construct this unholy mix of Taco Truck and Bicycle.  Thank you, Scott.  This is exciting news for all you Taco Likers out there who have been making the trip to the Cumming Tap every Tuesday for the Best Tacos You Are Going To Probably Going To Stuff In Your Face, or B.T.Y.A.G.T.P.G.T.S.I.Y.F. as the plan involves me riding around town on The Taco Bike, throwing down tacos for you to chomp.  More to follow…

[I am writing this as Barney is on in the background.  I can’t take it.]

A certain local food critic has declared via the comments section of this little kitten of a blog that this person does not consider Cafe Di Scala a real restaurant, but more of a catering place.  Hilarious.  We at the “not restaurant” have been having a good laugh at your statement, person who I promised via Twitter to never mention again.

Well, Friday is about to get underway.  Time for Me, Warren G, and Nate Dogg to saddle up and regulate.


The Cook


Locally Grown Tuesday Newsday!
2010/10/12, 2:24 pm
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Busy, busy.  This will be short today, as I have spent most of my time alternately making taco related items and supervising my new assistant Hank the Chimp as he replies to the last few days worth of comments here at LG.

He may smell a little "off," but Hank has a real knack for the written word.

But seriously, folks.  I will soon be meeting with the owners of Baru 66 to discuss the issues brought forth concerning their service staff.  Yes, I will share all information with you, my tens of readers, as soon as this sh*t goes down.

A concerned reader has also pointed out that I could use a few Journalism classes.  I don’t doubt it.  Luckily, I am not the one who has to read this crap.

That is really all I have for today.  Get out and enjoy the weather, I am sick of writing about how awesome it is just to have you sitting inside wasting your daylight hours reading blogs.

The Cook.

Locally Grown Ain’t Nuthin To F* Wit!

Good afternoon, tens of readers!  It is once again a glorious, warm, sunshiny day here in the DMZ (Des Moines Zone), and word on the public radio waves is that this will be the norm for us central Iowans for at least a few more weeks.  This is great news for local cyclists, runners, dog walkists, restaurateurs, donut makers, meteorologists (they won’t be dodging any Frostee’s for a while longer), campers, hikers, kayak-iacs, and especially the Farmers.  According to a few sources close to LG the growing season this year “sucked.”  The too-wet weather wreaked havoc on planting and maintaining the veggies you crave, but due, to a miracle of nature the crops will be coming out of the fields on time this year, you can read the harvest report here, courtesy of The Messenger.  I am happy that these hard working women and men will be able to remove their bounty in a timely manner…and maybe this year the harvest won’t mess with the propane prices too much, and the kids will all be listening to the Wu in shorts well into November.

This was NOT a scene from this weekend's World Food Festival, but it would be cooler if it was!

So, yes, it is nice out.  You get the picture.  Let’s all rejoice that the weather is nice and that the last paragraph has ended.  And so has this one.

Last week a few things happened in the world that were of great importance to the local food scene here in the DMZ.  The World Food Prize/World Food Festival took place in the lovely East Village in downtown DSM.  The WFP was founded in 1986 by Iowa native and Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, a hero to the nations of the world plagued by hunger. Dr. Borlaug was a great man who is credited with saving one billion lives, more than anyone else in history.  He is also the creator of what is popularly known as the “Green Movement.”  I urge you to read more about Dr. Borlaug and the World Food Prize at the World Food Prize site. There you can learn about the man, the movement, and how you can get involved, if you should choose to do so.

The World Food Festival is a separate event held in conjunction with the WFP summit to celebrate the diverse reaches of our local culinary tapestry.  Each vendor offered a $1 “taste” item along with their regular menu.  There were also live demonstrations from local chefs (?), including the Iowa Machine Shed?  hmmm.  Alohana? Isn’t that a franchise chain?  Yep.  Oh, and I see my buddy DH was on the roster too.  Fun.  I’m sure you will agree with me when I say that a certain local chef and blogger should have been doing a demonstration on the stage.  Maybe next year.  I could demonstrate how to cook something and talk trash it on the interdork at the same time…

And speaking of talking trash on the interwebs

After a soon-to-be-really-obese-television-host went round after round with a local sandwich, the DMZ food press was asked to give a a little piece of there time and influence to help raise national awareness of the food scene that I had, up til last week, thought they were a part of, but I am getting more of a “bystander” feel from a few.  That’s fine and dandy.  I can see where the mistake was made.  Food Critics can eat the food and write about the food, for better or worse, sort of creating an involuntary PR department for restaurants.  BUT if you ask your local food writer to maybe possibly “pump up” the things they see as kicking ass on the local scene to other people in other food scenes, that is OVER THE LINE, even though it is just more PR.  Journalism, especially entertainment jounalism, at its most basic level is public relations between the news source and the reader?  Am I wrong?  Should I stop typing with my tongs and read a book about journalism? Am I taking this too far?  I heard from the Illustrious Datebook Diner and the Food Dude, but what of the other 8 or 9 folks who seemingly reluctantly write about restaurants for part of their living?  Y’all didn’t get the memo?  DD, what was that MUST EAT AT spot you were referring to?  I gave you mine, time to ante up.

So many questions, so many beatings of the dead horse/brokening of the record.  I just want some community to start happening between the writers and the cooks.  There is a huge disparity between the talent and work level our local chefs and the recognition they get from the people in charge of recognizing.  Cripes, I suppose that just picked another fight.  Maybe I should just go back to sharing recipes.

Ok, we have to cut today short, as I am due to help lead “Write Club” in a little while, and I shouldn’t miss my writer’s collective meeting to actually write stuff.

I hope at least some of that made sense-ish.

the Cook

P.S. I hear that someone has recently earned a Locally Grown Bush League Food Un-writer Award!  Will it be a two-peat?

Hooooly Chow! A Hairy Carry!

Yesterday LG covered the aftermath of what is currently Our Fair City’s “Defining Moment of International Culinary Capacity,” the Adam Emmenecker Sandwich challenge as sort-of-tackled by Travel Channel star and Slop Jockey Adam Richman.  In the end what/who tackled what/who was lost in the fray of yet another ploy to illicit the help of the city’s “Food Press” to further the global acknowledgement of our locavore-istas and the chef-driven local food scene here in Iowa.  We heard from the Food Dude (via my facebook account, you can “friend me” there for more musings.)  regarding his dealings with food television producers, and the Illustrious Datebook Diner, who was as inquisitive as ever.  Let’s see if we can turn back time and find a way to cull forth her comment…(The following is in no way an attack on DD, but since she summed up many good points in her comment, this is happening.)

[rubs magic jaunty light fixture]

La Bonne Femme: Well, maybe there’s an adverse connection between our “gluttonous portion lack of control” and the finesse/precision/creativity of our cuisine. When quantity is valued over quality, bi-coastal food scouts aren’t going to pay much attention.

I see the point, but quantity is valued over quality in every city around the country, in one restaurant or another.  Food Scouts go either to the “Big 5,” NYC, SF, LA, PDX, CHI, or to Places Of Interest As Promoted By Said Places Of Interest.  You have to create a “buzz” or “rattle” around your food scene to get noticed, especially in a small market such as Des Moines.  This is where the “credibility” of the actual print press can come in handy, hence the call to um…arms? pens? You get the point.

Also, on the chef-driven local food scene, what can you get here that you can’t find at good restaurants in many places? What makes DSM stand out? Lots of cities in the country lie close to agricultural abundance….

All True, except that Iowa is supposed to be the Agricultural Center of this Tootsie Pop we call America.  How many licks will it take to get to the center? Huh?

it’s what chefs do with the goods that makes news.

Yes, but it is really what the NEWS WRITERS do with the news of what the chefs are doing with the goods that makes a difference.  News is just marketing with a little more credibility in this equation, so get out there and spread the words.  There are chefs that are kicking some culinary ass around here, and they aren’t getting the due that they deserve.  This is a problem.  You can’t get noticed if your head is buried in the sand.  Just ask any ostrich.

Don’t get me wrong–I love the food scene here, but I just wonder what you think would be worth the country’s attention, as in, You HAVE to go to Des Moines to eat at __________.

(I have an answer, but you go first.)

Ok, I will go first.  In fact, the first draft of yesterday’s nonsense-a-thon included a list.  Here is another version of it, in not much of an order:

  1. Alba
  2. Cafe Di Scala
  3. Azalea
  4. Baru 66
  5. The entire Asian Cuisine phenomenon (I realize this is not a restaurant)
  6. Lincoln Cafe

There are many others, but I am on a time constraint here.

Here is MY point:  The writers of Juice, the Register, Cityview, and all other major news outlet type things: Please listen to what I am saying here.  I, along with many local chefs and restaurateurs, implore you to use your influence and maybe a little of your free time to lift up the Food Scene.  Help elevate it to the “next level” by working with other media outlets, in other cities, to form some kind of partnership…and maybe, now that we have our proverbial foot in television’s door, we can let the world know what is happening in the great city of Des Moines.



The Cook

Des Moines Vs. Food Television

Last night saw the airing of the Des Moines edition of famed gorge-tastic eating challenge show “Man Vs. Food” on the Travel Channel.  Host Adam Richman visited the High Life Lounge for some Broasted Chicken and Bacon-Wrapped Tots, then traveled to Jethro’s BBQ in Dogtown (that’s the Drake Neighborhood, for those of you not in the know) for a shot at the Famed/Feared 5 pound Adam Emmenecker Sandwich.

This Will Hurt You.

The challenge involves eating over 5lbs of food in 15 minutes or less.  A fools game that has been attempted many times (and from all accounts, a dozen more shots at the title were made during the episode’s showing at Jethro’s last night) but accomplished by only two people.  Two. At the end of the episode we learn that Adam Richman was NOT number three.  Not even close, and there is no shame in his game.  He came, he saw, his eyes bugged out a little, he ate, he did not win.  An admirable effort, but against a too-potent adversary.

We can all rejoice that the Travel Channel has (kind of) finally done right by our fair city, albeit not for its culinary prowess, but for its gluttonous portion-lack-of-control.  I, along with many others, would have liked to seen the Heartland episode of No Reservations air with some DeMo footage, but that was never in the cards according to the producers of said show.  There was also a rumor that the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” was in town to film, but no footage has aired.

What is my point?  My point is a question.  What has DSM been doing to warrant such a reaction from the Filmed Food Press?  Especially in this day and age of “anything food-related can make a television show,” we should be seeing some sort of feedback from the mass media of not only our rising toward culinary glory, but the fact that chefs from around the country have been relocating (or considering relocating) to our area to be in the midst of the farms and fields that produce the fresh, quality ingredients that they crave.  Sure, there are many other cities with great local food scenes, but none of them, in my opinion, come close to having the access to agriculture to which we here in Central Iowa are accustomed.  Maybe the producers of said food shows haven’t found the right chef/kitchen/restaurant to feature, only the right food challenges.  My challenge to the press:  Put us on the map for the food that is happening, not just the portions.

Chew on that for a minute or fifteen.


The Cook.




Sweet Baby G-bus! It’s A Miracle!/The Assigment
2010/10/04, 4:40 pm
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Here it is, a wonderful October Monday Morning, the Sun is embracing the DezMoz/DMI/DSM/DeM Metro Area in a glorious hug of warm rays, the cool autumn air crisp and clean, and some other nice things, including NO COMPLAINTS FROM ME.  Yes, a miracle has truly taken place this weekend…it was very much like that Ice Cube song, “Today Was A Good Day,” but more like “Todays Was Some Good Days.”

This is where you would have seen the chart I had prepared based on the happenings of Ice Cube’s Good Day vs. an Average Day vs. A Bad Day vs. This past weekend, but since I use Ubuntu/Open Office, I could not save the graph as a WordPress-friendly file type.  If anyone has any advice regarding this problem, other than switching my OS, let me know.

Instead, you get this partial flow chart from www.geekologie.com

Today DOES Seem Kinda Odd...

My chart was more situation-specific, but whatever.  Thankfully the Geekologie geeks know how to utilize graphic editing software.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a ton of complaints from the last week, but this weekend trumped/erased from memory said issues.  Instead, let’s do something different.

This week I would like all of you to visit your favorite restaurant, you can do this solo or bring a group.  Doesn’t sound to difficult so far, does it?  I would like you to enjoy your favorite meal served by your favorite server/cashier/drive-thru attendant/lunch lady/sandwich artist/etc (hey, not everyone’s favorite restaurant is fine dining, you would be shocked to find out my favorite spot to eat, as I would possibly be shocked to find out yours).  When the meal is over, thank the people who prepared (the chef, the burger flipper, the taco guy, etc) and served your food.  I mean REALLY thank them.  Not in the “this is the best service I have had, then leave a crappy tip” kind of way, but in the “I truly and sincerely appreciate all that you have done to make me a happy repeat customer then tip well, if it is a tipping situation” kinda way.  A light sprinkling of complements on top of the Donut Of Food Service-itude goes a long way.

The Donut Of Foodservice-itude Awaits Your Sprinkles

Let’s review the steps:

  1. Go to favorite restaurant
  2. Enjoy meal and service
  3. Let the people responsible know how much you appreciate them and their food.

You could even take this a step further and contact the establishment via the mail or interweb to compliment them a second time (after you have complimented in person).  These people have worked hard to make you happy.  Show them some love.

That is assignment number one.  Assignment number two is as follows:

  1. Think of a restaurant you enjoy which you “discovered” through a print review.
  2. Send the Reviewer/Critic an email or “tweet” thanking them for turning you on to said eatery.

Even easier (unless you can’t think of an instance where a food critic/restaurant reviewer steered you to a good restaurant, which I find highly unlikely) than assignment one.

You have your assignments, now get out there and spread the love!

The Cook