Locally Grown

Hello, Friday. Some Local News.

Good morning to all of you out there with the free time in which to partake in some inter-oggling of some more news type things.

This Saturday you will have the opportunity to hear myself and Cafe Di Scala/Gusto Pizza owner Anthony Lemmo on the radio show of George Formaro, Kitchen Insider.  We will be talking about local food and dining (shocker) and the GRAND OPENING OF GUSTO PIZZA (which you can read about in the next paragraph).  Tune in to 99.1 FM or listen from the KFMG webular site at 10 am this Saturday morning.

Yes, the moment has finally arrived.  After much anticipation, Gusto Pizza is officially opening this coming Monday, January 31st at 11 am.  I have been to the location at 1905 Ingersoll Avenue…it is a great looking spot.  I have had the pizza, I love it.  Come in Monday and see an all star opening crew, including Mr. Lemmo, Chef Phil Shires of Cafe Di Scala, and your favorite Cook, me.  It will be a glorious day of pizza, pranks, and hilarity.  See you there.

The TACOPOCALYPSE is upon you!  Saturday night from 5 until 7 I will be serving my sort-of-well-know tacos as part of the Central Iowa Trails Association get together at All Play in downtown DMZ.  Get all of the information at the CITA Facebook Site.


Well, that isn’t all of the news we have to talk about, but somebody has to mount a bike and ride to work.  Don’t forget to partake in all of the fun this weekend and Monday.

The Cook.



Correction Junction/Gusto Pizza Opening
2011/01/26, 7:28 am
Filed under: Local Food Commentary | Tags: , , , ,

Any “news” source (and this term can be used VERY loosely for almost any information outlet these days) has its good and bad days.  Some days are spot on, others are full of hiccups and literary “nip slips,” but the mark of a true (not really) professional (huh?) publication is the ability to admit those mistakes and go the extra mile to print the correction/retraction and not move on to a distraction (ala certain talk radio hosts).

Locally Grown strives to provide you, the valued reader, with the correctest most correct information possible, but during our journey to local food/dining informational glory we too trip over a few roots in the path, much like other, more legitimate, news sources.

This week we tripped over the same root twice.  Whoops!  Now it is ticertain talk radio hostsme for a correction:

Gusto Pizza Co. (1905 Ingersoll Ave) will not be opening tomorrow, January 27th.  Gusto will be announcing their opening date via Twitter tonight.  Follow them (@GustoPizzaDM) for the announcement and further updates.

Sorry to you, and to the fine women and men of Gusto Pizza, for the confusion.

The Cook.

Locally Grown Classics: Padding The Words, Coddling The Cooks
2011/01/25, 8:44 am
Filed under: Locally Grown Classics

Welcome, Faithful Tens, to another installment of what we/the royal I like to call “Locally Grown Classics.”  This is an opportunity extended to your eyes for a second chance to read some words that may have been missed during previous post perusal.  In short, I pick some favorite old posts from the Cook’s Catacombs and repost with commentary (like what is happening right now).

Today’s post was written after watching some movie which had a few scenes of children hating on their mothers’ cooking.  I am fortunate enough to not have had that problem growing up, but know many that had.  A conversation was started as to what happens to your adult tastes when your childhood experience with food is less than appetizing, and what happens when you tell bad cooks that they are doing a good job (I also picked this post for today because of the horse connection with yesterday’s post).  Read on, Readers, for we bring unto your eyeholes a Locally Grown Classic from way back in January 2010 entitled:

Padding The Words/Coddling The Cooks

First off I would like to thank all of you whom have taken time out of your…time to read the words of this cook. It is nice to know there are some like-minded individuals in Des Moines. Keep the feedback coming, and I will keep spouting opinions.

I have some words regarding last week’s Blog, something about Chefs getting along. Apparently this concept has been deemed HORSESHIT in DSM, so please disregard the late night ramblings of a Kitchen Peace Activist. I still urge you non-chefs to pass along the words to any working chefs as I suspect most of the Chefs Of Des Moines have not seen nor have the time to search for this blog. In fact, let all of your friends – in or out of the restaurant industry- know what words have been spit out and encourage them taste the fresh barnyard flavor of Inter-Kitchen Peace.

“What is this HORSESHIT in front of me? I did not realize the internet was powerful enough to carry such a large load of HORSESHIT all the way to my eyes.”

I still think it is a good idea, at least it is a concept that could be locally grown.

On to TODAY’S subject (Notice this says today, not ‘this week’ for I may have MORE THAN ONE POST IN ME THIS WEEK).

Growing up in Iowa is much like growing up any place in the U.S. in that you have to eat food, usually a few times per day. At least once in a while you will eat one of these meals rather reluctantly due to it being mis-represented as food by the crook – er – Cook. Anyone following yet? What I am saying here is that sometime in your life you have had to eat a meal prepared by a family member or family friend and PRETEND IT WAS OK TO EAT. Dry burgers, stringy chicken, bland lumpy gravies, CANNED VEGETABLES, and the like are all culprits here. Crunchy mac and cheese (and not due to toasted bread crumbs), disintagrated lasagne noodles, you all can add a few to the list. What did you do in such situations? More often than not we are taught to grin and bear it. Bad Idea.

“Nathan, how is that yummy meatloaf? Huh?”
“Oh *retch* it’s good, Aunt Geri”
Scene cuts to under the table. Nathan stuffing meatloaf in his pockets for a later rondevouz with the outside trash can or neighborhood dogs.

Nothing good becomes of this passive eating technique. Teaching children to communicate is a very important job which adults drop the ball on when forcing kids to accept the inevitable bland chicken and dumplings as delicious. Showing kids at an early age that it is ok to disagree with food choices, within reason, could mean all the difference in the youngsters’ lives. A child taught to convey their feelings about food can help a future friend discover that they were missing something in their cooking, could lead to happier interpersonal relationships in adulthood, and will ultimately guide them through life as an honest contributing member of society. Allowing a child’s taste buds to create lies to coddle the cook could turn them into a bitter, passive aggressive adult or worse…a FOOD CRITIC.

Anyway, until next time. Bon Apetite for Destruction.

Monday News!
2011/01/24, 11:40 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Good Afternoon, Tens!  You have all survived the 9-5 M-F world’s worst nightmare, the dreaded Monday Morning.  High five the person next to you, then read on…

– Gusto Pizza Opens This Week!  The word on the street is Thursday, Jan 27th…but stay tuned.  Ingersoll Ave and MLK will be treated to some REAL pizza!

– Tacopocalypse Lands At All Play!  Those of you out there who have enjoyed tacos from yours truly will be thrilled to know that this Saturday the fine folks at the Central Iowa Trails Association are hosting a party benefiting Iowa’s dirt trails and celebrating dirty cycling with tacos.  Party Begins at 5pm, Check out the CITA web site for more details.

– BaconFest is upon us.  Rumor has it that after DOUBLING the number of tickets available and expanding the event to a whole week, Blue Ribbon Bacon Fest sold out in FOUR MINUTES this past Friday.  That is 18 minutes less than last year’s event sell out time.  Des Moines, you really want your cured pork!  Wow.  Click the link for the particulars.

– Bacon Week is rumored to be kicking off with a Bacon Taco Extravaganza with a selection of bacon themed…tacos…from Tacopocalypse.

The Cook

Food Criticism: It’s Not Horseplay

It’s refreshing to see that so many of you have such strong opinions regarding the desired credentials of the people who have been charged with the task of influencing your opinion with their…opinion.
Some of you have tried making a distinction between Food Writers, Food Critics, Restaurant Critics, Restaurant Reviewers, Entertainment Writers, and Yelpers, BUT you can toss around words like Foal, Mare, Colt, Filly, or Stallion, but a horse is still a horse.  If you choose to review food or a restaurant (professionally or on a user-reviewed site like Yelp), you are really trying to throw yourself into the same stable as the rest of the neighing nay-sayers.  This is one of the reasons I don’t “review” restaurants here, and if you took a look at the first Locally Grown post which i re-posted last week, you would maybe understand where I am coming from.

Do we need restaurant reviewists?  We do. Do we need sweeping food review reform? Probably not.  Unlike the policies force-fed to us by our elected officials, the word of a reviewer can and should be taken with a little subjectivity.  Ok, maybe my coffee intake has overtaken my ability to turn a sensible sentence.

We DO need people who are willing to venture out to new dining spots and share the story of their experience with others who may not be able to get out as often to try new spots, or may not have the financial or time resources to spare on an unknown venture.  There is nothing wrong with being careful with your wallet/purse or your tastebuds, and you careful diners have to be thankful for those who would help you avoid making a dining experience into your own personal tar baby.

Reviews can help you ensure your next dining experience doesn't end up like this.

In this case a review can be a valuable asset.  BUT the problem is trust.  Should you trust a particular reviewer or publication?  Should you put the fate of your hard earned money and free time in the hands of a stranger?  Have you ever been disappointed by a restaurant after reading a glowing review?  I have.  Hell, I have even gone to work at a particular kitchen because of its popularity within the reviewer crowd only to be fully let down.

What does all of this gibberish mean?  (it’s funny, you would think that stepping away from the bottle for a length of time would make for more coherent posts) I will try to sum this up one more time:

LG Tips For Successful Ventures Into Unknown Dining

  • Friends – First and foremost you should have, or find, a friend or colleague whom has similar taste as you, and has an adventurous spirit which propels them into the dining world.
  • Social Media – Use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to your advantage.  You can begin networking with like-minded diners from your area and find some hidden gems that would have otherwise escaped your grasp.
  • User Review Sites – Yes, read reviews on popular web search sites in addition to user-reviewer sites such as Yelp and the like.  Yes, I warn you about trusting these sites…but not all of the reviews are from deck stacking restaurant staff or disgruntled diners/former employees.  With a little reading and research you can find some trustworthy folks.  Right, Jordan?
  • The Print Press – The Physically Printed On Paper crew are a good resource for finding newly opened or soon-to-open spots.  Your local newspaper (sometimes) has an entertainment staff with ears to the ground listening for the faint footsteps of an approaching restaurant opening.  You can also get a valuable history lesson on the dining scene from people who have been dining…professionally…for a number of years. You can also be misled by someone with years of “beef” built up with the local Restaurateurs and Chefs.  Approach the words of the “pro” with the same caution you would use as the “Yelper.”
  • Food Bloggers – Local food bloggers are a valuable resource.  These people have invested the time and money in their own web presence and generally take their writing serious.  This is another avenue which you have to explore carefully, read their blogs and get to know their taste.  If they have written about a restaurant you frequented, compare your experience with theirs.  If there are discrepancies contact the blogger and open a discussion.  Most bloggers are more than helpful when it comes to explaining what they have written about.
  • Insiders – Do you know someone on the “inside?”  Shirley Surely you know someone who works in a restaurant (this seems elementary to me as all of my friends know someone who works in a restaurant).  This doesn’t really pertain to chains, those folks IMO and experience know nothing about the local dining scene.  I am talking about insiders who work at places like Django, Alba, Centro, 801, and the like.  These folks usually have worked at a few of the local spots and know the food and service provided.  Pick their brains, even when dining at their restaurants. I know this sounds a little tacky, but I am sure anyone reading this has the ability to wind a yarn around the situation.

The message here is such:  You have to do some research, spend a little time poking around.  Your money and time is valuable, and Our Fair City has an almost inordinate amount of restaurants vying for your financial attention.  Don’t trust just one source, there is no “Food Guru” (although one guy tried convincing you of this) which can espouse every bit of knowledge you need to make a decision.  Don’t trust a “star” system, trust your own taste and ingenuity.

My last bit of advice is DON’T TRUST ANONYMOUS INTERWEB REVIEWERS.  If you don’t have the cajones to attach your real identity to your opinion, it must not matter that much to you.  These people are what I often like to refer to as “Culinary Cowards” (not to be confused with Culinary Cow) are often just talking a bunch of crap.  Go back to AOL chat rooms with your BS, CC.  We don’t need you here.

Culinary Cow Sez: Trust your tastebuds, but keep them away from ME!

Now get out there and eat (Local)!

The Cook.

P.S. feel free to ask me for dining ideas (FB Sam Auen, Twitter @VegChefDSM, Email locallygrowndsm@gmail.com).  I HAVE most of the information you need at my disposal

A Conundrum Of Critical (Food) Criticism
2011/01/20, 8:43 am
Filed under: Local Food Commentary, restaurant reviews | Tags: , , , ,

Dear (Tens Of) Readers,

Sometimes in life our ears act as catcher’s mitts to fastball rants and curve ball truth-smearings, but once in a while our cartilaganeous (yes, I just made that up) sound-capture-holes bear witness to such a simple yet precise change-up which effectively closes out the game.  Such a query befell the ear-atuses of a local food critic this past weekend during a seemingly routine visit to one of the DMZ’s newest and most innovative dining concepts.  A person at this food venture struck up a conversation with this local Food Critic went (according to the account which squeaked by my ear lobes and landed in my brain lobes) a little something like this:

Person: “Oh, so you are a food critic.”

Critic: “yes, I am.”

Person: “Are you a chef?”

Critic: “No…”

Person:  “Well, then how do you know how to write about food?”

Critic “…”

Wow.  The “Person” just blew my mind.  All of this debate about what qualifies as good food criticism and whether food critics should even be considered legitimate (especially due to the recent bias and favorite playing of a  13 year vet…or is it 14 now) has just taken a turn toward home.  (please excuse the baseball references, I am just trying to wash away the single digit temperatures by thinking of spring)  Would you rather take your dining cues from someone who knows the food from a kitchen and service standpoint, or would you like to continue tuning in to the eating advice reception from a handful of “Professional Diners” around the state/country who seem to yearn more for whatever they are reviewing to conform to some ideal they formulated in another country/restaurant/bar?  To some wildly mild aesthetic that comforts the person writing the review?  What about real facts, real discussions of food and technique, objective, unbiased reviews of service and value without regard to the reviewer’s personal prejudice toward the reviewed cuisine, concept, restaurateur, chef, or light fixtures?

You, my tens of readers, have been duped on many occasion by restaurant reviewers around the world.  These business or journalism school grads don’t really know food like the women and men who have chosen a path to culinary glory, but they know how to write words.  There have to be a few out there who transcend this problem, who crosses the line drawn in the sand between the food professional and the food critic.

“Are you a chef?  Then how do you know how to write about food?”

The Cook

Wednesday Attempt At Writing About Food
2011/01/19, 9:47 am
Filed under: Total Rubbish | Tags:

Hello, Tens.  I had originally planned on expanding on a few recent subjects including proper tipping, locally grown food as a “trend”, and some other stuff.  Due to some work related timing problems and a late start to the day, I do not have time to get down with any or all of these subjects, but I did want to drop in to say hello.  So there you have it…Hello.

Also, what do you think about the proclamation that Local Food is a Trend?  I though Local Food was the foundation on which modern human eating was founded on thousands of years ago.

I leave you with this:

Great Hot Dog Bike, but what's with that heinous gear?

The Cook