Locally Grown

Breaking News: Judged Worthy By Food Critics.

well, AMAZING TENS, it’s been a good long while since we have shared screen to screen moments.  When our eyes meet over the same words at different times…it’s like a deliciously delayed serendipity.

A lot has happened in the cook’s life over the last tens of months, I worked my buns off at cooking instead of making up words and ended up opening my own restaurant in the lovely East Village of the most amazing town west of the Mississippi and east of the Missouri, Des Moines.  Things are going swimingly so far (we are only just over a month in), and we have received our first few PRINT REVIEWS FROM FOOD CRITICS.  This is a moment I have been pretty nervous for, as some of you know I have been less than forgiving towards the writers of food article type things.  I sat in anticipation, knowing that my restaurant is doing things NEARLY up to my standards (if you are doing things right as a chef/owner/kitchen cat herder the nothing is going to be up to your standard…because of obsessing and raising the mental bar every day.), and also knowing that I have potentially upset a number of people who would be finally maybe writing/judging my true body of word, Tacopocalypse.  Turns out, either I am a little paranoid about the whole food reviewer thing (duh), or my crew is really doing the job that I am perceiving that they do.  Probably both.  All reviews have been very kind and positive at this point.  Thank you, we have truly worked hard to make sure that the dining experience is top notch for every person walking in the front door.  I know it’s all about personal perception, and the persons perceiving so far have been very happy.  Thank you, again.

Here’s the thing about personal perception: It’s personal.  Every single individual sees similar situations in slightly (or wildly) different ways.  Creating an experience that keeps a majority of the poplulace is a challenge because of this.  What keeps one happy can ultimately infuriate the next.  It’s some really frustrating shit, the kind of frustrating shit that birthed that keeps restaurant folk on their toes and continually aging faster than the rest of the populace, the kind of frustrating shit that caused this blog.  It’s the kind of shit, that if you encounter it for a long enough period of time, you might start finding the humor rather than the stomach grinding pain of it all.

Thank you to all who have visited my new restaurant and have elevated it to a level of medium-ish success with your shining faces, and especially to you critics…I hope that you come back and continue your positive personal perception of what we here are doing.

You know what, I might just start writing this blog again.  It feels good.  Just hope it doesn’t get me into any trouble…hahaha.


The Cook


Monday Update. Seriously.
2010/11/29, 4:03 pm
Filed under: Local Food Commentary, Total Rubbish, Vegetarian Dining | Tags:

Here’s something unprecedented in the halls of LG history, a second follow up supplemental Monday news post.  But enough with the normal nonsense, let’s get down to biznass.



I stopped by Proof for a little lunch break today and managed to catch a quick convo with a very busy Carly Groben.  The word is that Flour Pizza (mentioned in our earlier post) will be opening Thursday at 11a.  Be there and eat square.  You know, like square slices of pizza. 1220 Locust St in the DMZ. Thursday.


I also stopped in to Allspice for a little earlier announced shopping trip.  Owner Alex Rhoads was manning the helm as your slightly soggy cook sauntered across the heavily spice scented threshold.  Let’s see, Locally Owned, Friendly, Fair trade, Vegan friendly, Gluten Free, Fairly priced, Spices, Specialty Olive Oils. Check. Check. Check.  I walked out with some smoked paprika for the Tacopacalypse Vegan Chorizo, some Crushed Urfa Chile (a Turkish pepper from the town of Urfa) , and a mission to tell you Tens to make it a point to get in to see Alex at Allspice for some good good lovin for your cooking.  You may find a new spice that will inspire you to cook something different this week, any week really. 4oo E. Locust, Suite 5, the DMZ

Olive Oils at Allspice

People, support your locally owned businesses.  You should treat it as your civic duty to support your fellow DMZ-ians who have decided to take the plunge into the depths of business ownership and deliver the goods.

“And remember to thank us and yourselves for everything and everyone.” – James V. Sarcone

Hasta Manana

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

Laying Down The Slaw/Holiday Meal Education

We stand here this crisp and sunny Monday morning looking to the East, soaking in the beautiful, inspiring sunrise cresting the skyline, then to the horizon West, where October stands ready to bring us the cool of fall, the threat of snow, and the beginning of the Holiday Season.  For many this time of year marks the start of family gatherings, team sports watching with friends (and all their fantasy equivalents), teaching their children holiday traditions, warm apple cider, pie, presents, and a good reason to re-decorate their houses each month with new holiday themes, including a dazzling light show.

Another Issue To Debate...Global Warming Due To Holiday Lighting.

For some people, it’s even a good time to just invent new holidays (because you can’t have enough holidays during the holiday season).  For those who have decided to make the plunge into non-meat-eating waters it is also a time to educate family on what constitutes a Vegan or Vegetarian lifestyle.  For many of you within that realm, it adds to the stress of the season.  Gone are the days when you could just show up at family dinner and eat, eat, eat.  Now there is a little worry that goes with your meal, and beyond the scope of uncomfortable family discussion moments.

The Royal We here at Locally Grown understand this plight, as your Kinda Humble Cook spent his Vegan years returning home to Mother Cook’s house for holidays to find her stocked up on bananas and animal crackers, and tempting me with meatloaf.  This was all in good nature, of course, but I have also been to holiday dinners with friends (who were also VEG), only to be berated for being Veg, or even worse been secretly fed tainted food only to find out minutes later while running to the bathroom.  I would like to think these mistakes were out of lack of knowledge than spite, and to narrow that margin of Holiday Dinner error for you all this year, I would like to open a discussion with you tens of readers as to how you have educated your families, how you can better educate your families, and MY NUMBER ONE GOAL which is how we can all get along and celebrate together, without arguing, name-calling, and without leaving people out of the celebration because of their dietary convictions.

I will start this discussion with a short list of

Top ? Reasons/Ways To Culinarily Coexist With Others

  1. Sharing IS Caring – Sharing is the reason for the holiday season, or so I am told.  Learning from each other and sharing in the foods of your veg-minded friend/family member is a great way to show you care about their lives.
  2. Exclusion is NOT caring – Giving someone the “here’s some beans, that’s all we have for you.” line is not caring.  If you don’t know how to prepare, or don’t care to prepare, proper food for your Veg guest, encourage them to bring a dish or two for themselves, and for other people to try.  I personally have always had better luck just bringing my own Vegan dishes to family dinners, and having enough on hand for the adventurous diners to try (and sometimes to completely finish off).
  3. Quit name calling.  I once went to a girlfriend’s family Thankgrubbing meal out in the country.  I brought my tofu-stuffing casserole thing (which has been discontinued), and many of the family members on hand at least tried a bite, some of them actually ate whole portions.  Everything was going well until the Drunk Uncle decided to start questioning my sexuality because of my Veg tendencies.  Totally uncalled for, and spoke more of DU’s own personal struggles, but this is not totally uncommon.  If you don’t like the fact that someone chooses not to eat meat, just fucking deal with it.  You don’t need to be an asshole about it, unless you are being attacked by one of those “Preachy Vegans

That’s enough for now.  Please, allow yourselves to share any stories or tips or to please ask questions.  The royal We are more than happy to answer question.

On to some Monday News:

I hereby declare that the DSM Register, Juice, Cityview, and Metromix sites need to be made more user friendly.  How am I supposed to complain about their content if I can’t even get to it?

In last week’s Datebook, a certain somebody extolled the virtues of the Baked Cavatelli from Ranallo’s in Ankeny.  (I would link this, but see above note).  What the Certain Somebody did not state is that those home-made noodles were made in the home of Cafe Di Scala, as are the cavatelli from Centro.  I know that Pete Ranallo’s Cav dish is delicious, and I love you guys, but maybe the food press could give credit/do their research a little bit better.

I, without announcement, took the last week off from Locally Grown.  I would like to apologize, and to give you an explanation.  I built a new bike, and rode the crap out of it.  Honestly, I didn’t really feel like writing anyway.  I think the Seasonal Laziness Syndrome might be kicking in a little early!

I awoke from a wicked dream this morning, remembering only that I had shaved off my beard and somehow smoooshed a chihuahua by rolling over in my sleep.  Neither one of these events happened, but I am still reeling from the perceived experience.

Yep, time to get back to riding.  Enjoy this wonderful day.

The Cook

Arrrg, It’s Restaurant Week!

(witty caption)

Here we are as the true culinary event of the year, the Iowa State Fair, is drawing nearer to a close, poised at the starting line of the “dining treasure hunt” called Restaurant Week.  When the starting pistol fires today at about 11 a.m. diners, ‘foodies’, bargain hunters, and pleasure seekers of the foodular kind will ‘get down on it.’ with it being…food finding.  Hmmm…. Yes, you hungry thrill seekers will have the opportunity to search out new and exciting places to get yo food-freak on, and with special menus and special fixed prices.  I will spare you all of the details as you can probably find them on the  DSM Register web site or just look here.  The event is put on by DSM Magazine, the Business Record (Hi Todd), and 39 local restaurants who would love to see some new happy faces walking through their doors (coming or going, they want you smiling).

What we here at Locally Grown have for you today are a few special dining tips for those of you venturing forth into this taste bud adventure with reckless abandon.  As you may know, I have on occasion vented the customer complaints (about the customer)  heard while hanging out with local Restaurant Professionals.  Here are some tips to keep you from being the target of an A-hole rant  or worse, cause some hurt feelings on both sides.

Locally Grown’s Special Guide to Prefered Restaurant Week Behavior

  • Obey The Menu – This is a fixed price, fixed menu event designed to give you an affordable means to experience a multi-course meal.  Order from the Restaurant Week menu and enjoy the choices that have been specially selected.  These are items that the owners and chefs want you to try.  DO NOT pull some crap like “if I don’t want desert can I get the steak for my main entree?” If the steak is not an option you should  automatically assume that you can’t order the steak in conjunction with RW.  If you would like to order from the regular menu, then do just that.  Restaurant Week doesn’t give you license to order anything in your restaurant of choice for the RW price.  Seriously.
  • Be Understanding – in many restaurants, a sudden spike in business can cause either the kitchen to get a little behind or the speed of service to lag a little (especially if your server is running to the kitchen asking about the possibility of substitutions because guests aren’t following Rule #1).  Yes, that is one reason for the streamlined menu…to keep the flow going, but sometimes stuff happens.
  • Don’t be a F!@king Drama Queen – This isn’t only for our special week together, abide by it always.  Don’t tell your server that they ruined your night (unless they slashed your tires or stole your man) because of some small dining mishap.  Don’t start freaking out because you aren’t being allowed to make your own menu.  Come in to your restaurant of choice with a smile, and enjoy yourself.  If you have really just had the worst dining experience of your life, talk to someone in charge about it, and do it discreetly.
  • Compliments – If you are impressed with your experience, tell them.  We like positive feedback.  A few kind words go a long way.
  • Don’t Forget To Tip – according to legend, there are some people who come out for RW who may not normally dine out in a “sit down” environment.  For those of you who aren’t sure of what or how to tip, use this rule:  Tip your server at least 20% during RW. Don’t be a “Mr. Pink.”

"I don't tip just because society says I have to!" Then do it because I say you have to! t

  • Enjoy Yourselves – Restaurant Week (I hear) was designed to be enjoyed, so do just that.

So there you have it, a few easy tips to follow that should help make the next week more enjoyable for diners and restaurant staff alike.

See you on the road to Prix Fixe glory…

The Cook

It Was All A Dream, I Used To Read Gourmet Magazine
2010/08/07, 1:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

Ok, Ok, Ok, I get it now. The answers to the food world’s greatest questions were today found at the bottom of my afternoon Ramen Bowl (a family tradition since this afternoon). The great and mighty circus that is Des Moines’ culinary future was laid out before your humble narrator by a sagely man of insider real estate knowledge some hours past, only to resurface mysteriously from the aforementioned bowl of fried/boiled noodles. When all that lay beneath my chopsticks and spoon was a small pool of broth and some stray, forgotten pasta fragments, I saw that vision…locations, menus, big name players, timing, financiers…it was like some wild array of culinary business oriented sugar plums “juking” in my head (this could have been influenced by the last few days’ B-day festivities). I know now what I must do. I know now what the future holds for me, as long as I will it to happen. My future is still here with you, my faithful tens of readers, because where would I be without our conversations? Who would bring you the unfettered gripes, groans, and sometimes happy moments of the kitchens of the places in which you dine? Certainly not your beloved Register, Juice, Cityview, or Relish…what writers REALLY know about working in a kitchen? Maybe they waited tables in college? I will still be here , but I have a plan. Only, I can’t tell you what it is…because then I would have to make you a partner. Stay tuned… I have also gotten quite a few comments both here and in the non-internerd world regarding why I don’t subscribe to “cooking competitions” or answer the challenge when um…challenged. Here is the reason I don’t “man up” and “throw down”: I simply don’t give a fuck. There. I said it. When, as in a recent event, someone just out of the fucking blue says “put your money where your mouth is” and throw down, I just don’t care. I don’t have the fucking time or money to throw at a “competition” style outing and I don’t really fucking care if a room full of people think that maybe my presentation was better/worse or that my sear could have used a little higher heat in the pan. Most “laymen” food judges wouldn’t know the intricacies of what we do if they were bludgeoned silly with Escoffier’s teachings. I have confidence in what I do and have worked very fucking hard to get what I have, whether it be knowledge, skill, or the acknowledgement/respect from others in my field. I am no where near being a “Great Chef” but I can (and do professionally) cook and have been recognized as that…a good cook (hence the signature at the end of every LG post). Oh, and I’m sensitive. What would happen if I lost? Would DSM see its crankiest blogger shed tears over losing an event he “doesn’t give a fuck” about? Maybe, just maybe. I also recall what happened when tempers flared at a recent Cooking Competition. It looked a little something like this:

A Little Friendly Competition Ends In Mug Shots. Cool.

Well, let’s move on to something a little less about me, shall we? I guess today that means you will have to read something elsewhere! Tee Hee. Profanely Yours, The Cook P.S. Thank you for all of the birthday wishes, this year was a great one and I look forward to marching further towards “retirement” age with all of you in tow. I love you guys and gals out there.

Give yourselves a hand, you are awesome. Except you, and you know who you are!