Twin Cities Restaurateurs Find Fresh Success in Minnesota Ingredients
With some of the world’s most fertile farmland and pristine freshwater lakes and rivers, Minnesota has long produced top-quality grains, produce, meats and seafood. Yet many of these native foodstuffs have been overlooked and underappreciated over the years, with operators opting for lower-cost supplies from out-of-state and overseas.
That’s changing now, as diners seek a connection to the land and find it in a host of farm-to-table restaurants that know that going local isn’t just delicious, it’s good business. Here, four experts give the lowdown on foods with unbreakable ties to Minnesota, and the dishes that bring out their best.
Local Grain: Minnesota Wild Rice
Beth Fisher, Consulting Chef, French Meadow Bakery & Cafe
Wild rice is definitely a Minnesota/Native American thing, and we eat a lot of it. It’s nutty and creamy, it has a nice rich feeling on your palate, and it fills a pot deliciously. It grows along the lakes up here and they hand-harvest it from boats. We do a chicken wild rice soup that we’re well known for. It sucks up the broth and makes it chowdery, but still has a thin broth to it. You can undercook wild rice to get a little crunch and keep the texture. There are people who love it and if they hear it’s on a dish or side dish, that will sell it. It has a lot of value, even though it’s not inexpensive.
Local Vegetable: Sweet Corn
Russell Klein, Chef and Owner, Meritage
Corn’s a big deal here. When it’s in season, we get ours from a farmers market right outside our restaurant. At peak freshness, it’s sweet, it’s tender, and the sugars haven’t had a chance to convert to starches yet. My favorite dish with sweet corn is the corn velouté, a corn soup. Every spoonful is like eating a whole corn on the cob. It has only three ingredients: a little bit of bacon fat, some butter and corn. We cut the kernels off the cobs and use the cobs to make a corn stock. Then we sweat the kernels in the bacon fat and butter. We add the corn stock, cook it until it’s tender, puree it all up and that’s it. It’s the essence of corn.
Local Meat: Scottish Highland Beef
Aaron Spading, General Manager, Wise Acre Eatery
Our restaurant is unique because we raise all of our own proteins. They come from one farm in Plato, Minn., that is part of our company family. Grass-fed Scottish Highland is exclusively what we raise for beef. In terms of flavor, you can’t do any better. Millions of years of evolution have made them delicious, and they’re naturally lean. You can taste it in our market beef, an intentionally nondescript cut of meat on our menu that we braise in red wine. We serve it with charred red Florence onions from our farm and house-made potato chips. It really is just a bowl of beef.
Local Fish: Walleye
Katina Burke, General Manager, Tavern on Grand
We sell the most walleye in the world for not being a franchise. People who don’t like to eat fish try our walleye and their minds are changed. It’s got its own clean, fresh flavor and a beautiful, flakey texture. We used to get all of our walleye up at Big Red Lake, but now ours comes from nearby Manitoba, Canada, because of a commercial walleye ban in 1990. We either grill it, blacken it or deep fry it—it doesn’t take away the flavor. Just a bit of our own special seasonings on top. The flavors soak right in.