To Discover the Future of Food, Ask the Chefs

Three leading Minnesota chefs break bread, drink wine, and talk about the way food will be eaten—and cooked—in the decades to come

(A) Kenzie Edinger, sous chef at Mucci's Italian in St. Paul. (B) Ann Ahmed, chef-owner of Lat14 Asian Eatery in Golden Valley. (C) Paul Baker, chef de cuisine at Hyacinth in St. Paul // Photo by Becca Dilley

(A) Kenzie Edinger, sous chef at Mucci’s Italian in St. Paul. (B) Ann Ahmed, chef-owner of Lat14 Asian Eatery in Golden Valley. (C) Paul Baker, chef de cuisine at Hyacinth in St. Paul // Photo by Becca Dilley

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When we start talking about the future of food, we immediately consider questions of waste and sustainability, or whatever the cake-pop-like-object of the moment might be. It’s easy to get immersed in protein choices and dessert options, and overlook the women and men who live those questions every day of their lives: the chefs.

With that in mind late last year, we gathered three talented chefs with sharp points of view for a potluck meal and freewheeling conversation at Quincy Street Kitchen’s event and food strategy, branding and photography space in Northeast Minneapolis. They included:

Ann Ahmed (B), the chef-owner of Lat14 Asian Eatery in Golden Valley. She brought chicken laab, the meat of the bird accentuated by the deep flavor of gizzards, liver, and crispy duck and chicken skin. The heat of the dish’s chilies played nicely with the depth of the gizzards and the lightness of the mint, and coconut rice served as the perfect supporting element.

Paul Baker (C), chef de cuisine at Hyacinth in St. Paul. He served a pork terrine that was tender and unctuous, with nice chunks of solid meat encased in creamy fat, reminiscent of duck rillette. A sprinkling of fennel pollen gave the dish a flavor akin of porchetta, a taste amplified by an accompanying stone-ground mustard.

Kenzie Edinger (A), sous chef at Mucci’s Italian in St. Paul. Her rose-colored beet pasta with sauteed beet greens and microgreens evoked a rose bush or lush garden. The soft creamy tang of the dish’s goat cheese complemented the light sweetness of the beets in the pasta dough. There was a slightly caramelized sweetness from the roasted beet chips and earthiness from the sauteed beet greens.

Each chef—and each dish—told a story about the future of food in Minnesota.

On honoring the whole animal and the whole plant

THE GROWLER: You brought in a pork head cheese, which is a great dish, but can be difficult to pitch to the average American. What’s your way in?

BAKER: SPAM. That’s what it is, it’s the same thing. SPAM is our terrine, which is unfortunate—I like SPAM a lot, but every [other country] has a variation on terrine which is their gourmet food, so I kind of wish America would do a little bit more of that.

Why terrine and how does it connect to the trend of combating food waste?

BAKER: It’s a nice way to use up extra little bits. In the context of a restaurant, you end up with all sorts of scraps—fat and the tenders off of chicken breasts and duck breasts, so financially it makes sense.

It also helps me make an order [with a pork producer]. A big part of the problem with connecting small farmers and restaurants is just getting them to deliver; there’s a minimum charge for them to come out. So you can say “I’ll buy three heads,” so there’s an extra $90 for them and that helps everybody out.

Chicken Laab // Photo by Becca Dilley

Chicken Laab // Photo by Becca Dilley

Ann, you’ve brought a dish that connects with this theme—what’s the backstory on your laab?

AHMED: We’ve had laab here for how many years? It’s at every Thai restaurant, but are they ever going to use gizzards? Are they ever going to use liver in there for you? It’s made with white breast meat, because that’s what Minnesotans want.

But traditional laab is made with the entire animal. Now we’re all about sustainability, no waste—it’s something that these Southeast Asian countries have always known to cook for, but they feel like they need cook for the white American palate.

If you come from an impoverished country—you’re lucky to have a chicken. Why wouldn’t you use all of it? You’re lucky enough to have a garden, why wouldn’t you use every part of a vegetable that you grew?

It’s coming full circle, everything is just a matter of time.

Kenzie, tell us a little bit about the thought behind your pasta dish.

EDINGER: The main idea behind it was to be less wasteful. I watch cooks all the time chop off those beautiful beet greens and throw them in the garbage because they ordered the beets—that goes for a lot of vegetables. I think throwing away celery leaves should be a fireable offense. They’re delicious!

I think a lot of kitchens are conscious of it. But a lot of home cooks don’t really give a shit I think. We’re running out of stuff, we need to be smarter about our choices.

On the re-humanizing of kitchen culture

Kenzie Edinger // Photo by Becca Dilley

Kenzie Edinger // Photo by Becca Dilley

Kenzie, kitchen culture has historically been tough on women chefs. Is it changing? How has your experience been at Strip Club Meat & Fish and now at Mucci’s?

EDINGER: When I had first moved here [from North Dakota], I was trying to get any job I could. I applied at a TGI Friday’s and I went in for a interview, and the kitchen manager was like—‘I don’t know about this, the guys in the kitchen are going to eat you alive.’ I was like: ‘Okay, that’s super discouraging… what am I going to do now?’

So I walked into Strip Club [Meat & Fish] on a total whim—needed a second job, it was close to my house. JD [Fratzke] started me on the grill station right away and totally believed in me, which was a real change from what I was used to: ‘Oh, you’re a girl in the kitchen, you’re going to work salad station…. forever. Nothing else. We don’t trust you with fire.’ It was super cool.

There are a lot more women that I’ve seen in the last couple years that are like, ‘Okay, I can do this.’ We’ve had a couple people switch from cooking [elsewhere] to front of house at Mucci’s and then seeing that we’re a majority women kitchen most of the time, and it brings them back into the kitchen and cooking and that’s super cool to see.

Paul, you got your start at a Michelin-starred New York City restaurant connected to a tough kitchen culture—sink or swim and lots of burnout, plus some notorious tolerance for sexual harassment. How has that changed since you landed at Hyacinth in St. Paul?

BAKER: At Hyacinth, there’s none of that. It’s really easy: if you see something—that’s it. If you run a big restaurant and you aren’t putting your management staff through sexual harassment training, I would say you’re just setting yourself up for failure.

These days overall, there’s less drinking, and less of that kind of culture.

But it’s still there—I can look up the stats online—chefs wrestling with depression, nonstop alcohol abuse… in this industry, it’s very easy to do that. […] Eventually, everyone gets tired of living this sort of life. I think the cooks are getting tired of that life, and now people are starting to speak out about it and restaurants are starting to stop it. People getting more professional and taking it more seriously on the business side.

[As far as stress levels in the today’s kitchen goes] I’d say it’s the same. I just worked a station this weekend and it was so hard. It’s always stressful to be yelled at while you work. The history is that it’s always been that way and it’s hard to change history and how people think. Honestly you just have to not do it. It really is that simple. Me and Rikki always talked about how we went through New York and… don’t do the things that you hated and bitched about. We don’t need to do it.

On communal dining and the changing ‘Minnesota palate’

Ann Ahmed of Lat14 shares why communal dining is a powerful experience // Photo by Becca Dilley

Ann Ahmed of Lat14 shares why communal dining is a powerful experience // Photo by Becca Dilley

Communal restaurant dining isn’t a big Midwestern thing, but it seems to be on the rise—how is it working for you at Lat14?

AHMED: In Golden Valley we have two large communal tables and there are people who love it and just want it. One great example is [radio host] Tom Barnard—he only requests the communal table. And for his birthday, he came in with his family of five and [sat] at the communal table—which seats 12—and he walked around and offered everybody a piece of his birthday cake at the table. That’s just how cool it is.

And then there are people who are truly desperate, they’re starving at the end of the day and the only seat is the communal table, and guess what—they come up to you at the end of their meal and say, ‘Thank you so much! I never thought I would enjoy that, but that was one of the best experiences I’ve had.’

They’re passing food back and forth among people they’ve never met; everything is served family style so it’s super easy to pass a plate. It’s kind of like pushing boundaries.

You’ve said that when you started Lemongrass Thai 13 years ago, you had to design a “safe” menu that would appeal to all palates. How has that changed this year with opening Lat14? How is the Minnesota palate evolving?

AHMED: Fast forward 13 years, nothing on our menu is safe. When you order the papaya salad we don’t even give you an option, we’re just giving you one style. You’re getting the funkiest, stinkiest Lao style there is and that’s really pushing the boundaries for a lot of Minnesotans, especially in Golden Valley.

A communal cheers // Photo by Becca Dilley

A communal cheers // Photo by Becca Dilley

You kind of slowly ease them into it. And then once they’re comfortable with a dish like pineapple fried rice, we push the envelope and try the next thing—let’s try this duck that has a confit on one side and a pan-seared breast on the other that has bok choy and mushrooms… and they say: ‘Oh, I like this!’ It’s kind of taking baby steps with them. It’s not the same Minnesota that it was 13 years ago, I would have never done that with my guests.

And that’s why I designed the menu at Lemongrass the way it was—lots of options, something for everybody. Do you really need 100 different options? No. And in comparison to what it is at Lat14—there’s probably less than 20 items on the menu. So it’s a huge difference—I feel that Minnesotans are ready for it.

 

Pasta Dough

Beet Pasta // Photo by Becca Dilley

Beet Pasta // Photo by Becca Dilley

Chef Kenzie Edinger of Mucci’s

Ingredients

1,200 grams durum flour
400 grams whole eggs
425 grams egg yolks
20 grams extra virgin olive oil
20 grams salt

Method

Mix everything with a dough hook in a stand-up mixer or create a well with dry ingredients, pour eggs in middle, and mix on countertop with hands, kneading 10‒15 minutes (for both methods) until dough springs back when poked.

 

Chicken Laab

Chicken Laab // Photo by Becca Dilley

Chicken Laab // Photo by Becca Dilley

Chef Ann Ahmed of Lat14

Ingredients

2 pounds cooked ground chicken (or any protein of your choice)
2 tablespoons roasted rice powder (*see recipe below)
½ cup cooked chicken liver, thinly sliced and salted
½ cup cooked chicken gizzard, thinly sliced and salted
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
½ tablespoon Padek (ground fermented preserved fish)
1 tablespoon finely minced kefir lime leaves
1 tablespoon finely minced lemongrass
1 tablespoon finely minced galangal
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (stem included)
½ cup sliced green onions
½ cups fresh mint leaves rough chopped or whole
Sliced Thai chilies to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste
Cucumber slices to serve
Sticky rice to serve

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, add the ground chicken, cooked chicken liver, cooked chicken gizzard, lemon grass, lime leaves, and galangal. Mix together and season with fish sauce, padek, and lime juice. Mix well, then add toasted rice powder, Thai chilies, and pepper flakes.

Give the mixture a taste before adding the fresh herbs. Be careful not to over mix with the fresh herbs in the bowl: over mixing will bruise the herbs and change the flavor.

If you like sour, add more lime juice; salt, more fish sauce; spice, more Thai Chilies. Finish the mixture by adding cilantro, green onions, and fresh mint.

Serve with cucumber slices and sticky rice.

*Roasted rice powder recipe

In a small fry pan, toast raw dry sticky rice or jasmine rice grains until medium or dark brown. Stir constantly to toast evenly and avoid burning, then grind up into a powder.

 

Pork Terrine

Pork Terrine // Photo by Becca Dilley

Pork Terrine // Photo by Becca Dilley

Chef Paul Baker of Hyacinth

Brine

1 skin-on pig head split in half, including tongue
Kosher salt
Raw sugar
Pink curing salt #1, for color
White wine

Terrine

1 cup pickled yellow mustard seeds
¼ cup red juniper berries
cup fennel pollen
cup black pepper

Brine procedure for head

  1. Clean head by rinsing lightly and blowtorching any hair that remains. Remove ears and tongue.
  2. Submerge head, tongue, and ears in a container until totally covered with water.
  3. Strain into a container with milliliter measurements (or start in a milliliter container and remove head)
  4. Find your salt, sugar, and pink salt percent based on how much liquid you have—2.8 percent salt, 2.1 percent sugar, .3 percent pink cure salt #1. For my head, for example, I had 11,356 milliliters of water, so I used 322 grams of salt, 241 grams of sugar, 39 grams of pink salt. A good all-purpose brine recipe: 1 gallon water, ¾ cup salt, ½ cup sugar.
  5. Heat up brine to dissolve salts and sugar.
  6. Ice down until totally cold and submerge head and ears for 3 days minimum.

Roast procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 500℉
  2. Arrange head (cheek side up), tongue, and ears in a container large enough to contain them comfortably and that has a fitted lid. Add about a cup of white wine.
  3. Once the head is in the container, top it with parchment, then aluminum foil, then the lid, then aluminum foil again. This is very important: parchment, foil, lid, foil. This creates the perfect environment for the head to cook overnight without burning; it steams and roasts it, no liquid escapes, and the parchment acts as a barrier to prevent the first layer of foil from melting onto the cheeks of the head and ruining the skin, without which you don’t have a binder for the terrine.
  4. Cook for 30 minutes at 500℉ high convection. Lower heat to 200℉ no convection and cook overnight untouched at least 7 hours and up to 10 hours.
  5. Pull out and cool just a bit but not totally cold.

To assemble the terrine

  1. Remove head gently into another container and cool down the liquid at the bottom to allow for the fat to come to the top so you can remove it. A jelly will form underneath; you’ll want it to use later.
  2. Gently separate all parts of the head into groups: skin, cheeks, tongue, dark meat (most of which is under and around the eye socket), ears, and extra fat that is not rendered. (A lot will have rendered to a liquid form that you don’t want in the terrine, so be sure to strain that out. I do this by using a hotel pan with holes, but a colander would work, too.)
  3. Blend up skin in a blender or food processor to make a meat glue.
  4. Dice cheek meat into medium cubes.
  5. Loosely dice dark meat if possible, or shred.
  6. Dice tongue into the largest sized chunks. You want lots of different shapes and textures.
  7. Toast red juniper berries and black pepper until fragrant and blend to powder.
  8. GENTLY mix together all parts of the diced meat with the spices, skin paste, and pickled mustard seeds. Add any wine jelly that may be on the bottom of the head roasting pan after you cool it and remove the fat.
  9. Lay one layer of this mixture into a terrine mold or hotel pan lined with two layers of plastic wrap.
  10. Layer the whole ears in. (You want the ears in the middle of the finished terrine.)
  11. Top the ears with more of the meat mixture.
  12. Fold over plastic wrap and weigh down terrine with gentle weight and cool for at least one night.
  13. Remove from terrine and cut into slices.

Read more chef profiles and get other great recipes in The Growler’s Minnesota Spoon column here

A Blind Tasting beer festival

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