Locally Grown

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


Eating The A-hole Sandwich

I would like to take a moment to pass on a marginally amusing story of cooking and a brush with a VIMF (Very Important Man Folk) dot dot dot

  Once upon a time there was a boy who cooked at a local downtown DSM brunch hot spot. (record needle scratch) Ok, so I used to cook brunch at this “central” place.  We drew a good amount of politicians and celebrities (especially around caucus time), but on this particular Sunday it was quite unexpected to be visited by a person of such stature.

It was a hot, sweaty, heated Sunday morning with tempers on the line flaring and the printer spitting out tickets in a seemingly mocking rate.  I was having an issue with breaking egg yolks.  I assure you this was quite out of the ordinary.  Frustration ran high, every cook and sous chef for themselves kind of atmosphere.  I think you get the point. During the heat of what we like to call a “rush” (not to be confused with a “frush”), the printer craps out the ultimate special order:

“eggwhite and sausage omelette sandwich with cheddar on ciabatta roll”

I, as you may have guessed, was the “egg man” (but now I more resemble the walrus) and this egg man wasn’t in the mood for any eggwhite omelette action right at that moment. So I ask

“who ordered the asshole sandwich?”

There was no answer to that question just yet…

So I make the finest tasting, most visually appealing eggwhite and sausage sandwich (i forgot to mention that the asshole sandwich is not on the regular,or ANY menu) my happy little hands could muster.  Said sandwich was carefully placed into a to go container and sent out.

Seconds later one of the floor managers came back to my station and posed what could have been chalked up as the $5 question of the day.

“Hey Sam, do you know who Quincy Jones is?”

“Who doesn’t!” I spit back, shooting my most heinous stare of non-plusitude through the back of his seemingly empty skull.

I then proceed to let him in on the big secret called “Quincy Jones,” you know…um. Only the greatest producer of all time.  The manager tells me the Esteemed Mr. Jones is sitting in the bar area.  Stumbling through the back kitchen and around to the front of the restaurant I see the King Of Pop Producers being mugged by admirers and decide too hang back and not be another “that guy.” Other guests were all over him asking for autographs and hugs…he was wearing a “Cosby Sweater” (which was probably a gift from Bill himself), and appeared to be as kind and  humble as could be.

It was at this point in my observations when  I noticed the half-eaten eggwhit e-sausage omelette sandwich with cheddar cheese on ciabatta in a to go container resting by Mr. Jones’ left Cosby-clad elbow. 

Yes, it was the “asshole sandwich” only it wasn’t ordered by one, but MADE by one.

I learned a valuable lesson that day.  No, not that.

Sandwichingly Yours,

The Cook