Sometimes the search for good times and original images leads you to some unexpected places. Last Sunday, the search took me and a hearty band of food lovers to an interstate rest stop one hour northwest of Minneapolis. Why? Well, have you ever seen photos of gourmet food mere yards from an interstate? I hadn’t either, so I thought I’d fill that gaping void.
None of this would have happened if not for the involvement of Asher Miller, Executive Chef, Wolfgang Puck’s 20.21 Restaurant. The challenge I posed to Asher was to come up with twists on traditional road trip dishes and prepare them on the road – practically on the roadway itself, as it turned out. To my continued amazement, he accepted the challenge, and invited some friends and family along for the ride. So what did he come up with?
Watermelon cubes with feta crumbles & balsamic
Local cheese plate, featuring blueberry & raspberry cheddars and aged gouda
Tuna carpaccio atop crostini with citrus greens
Mini burgers on homemade buns
Assorted Surly beers
The food was incredible, the weather perfect. Judging by the smiles in the photos, I think the lesson is that a well-crafted piece of food can drown out quite a bit of road noise.
One more thanks to pass on, and that goes to Rachel Sherwood, food stylist extraordinaire, for her invaluable help wrangling props and making Asher’s delicious food look its best.
I’ll be posting my first behind the scenes video from the shoot in the days (weeks?) to come, so stay tuned!
There are few things in life that make me happier and more content than being in a restaurant when everything clicks perfectly; when the ambiance is welcoming and warm, the service matches, and the food balances creativity with comfort. Here in Minneapolis I’ve had that experience at a few places: the Birchwood Cafe, the Red Stag Supper Club, the NE Bulldog. Last night it happened for me at 20.21.
Asher and the gang on the line
Given the fact that 20.21 resides in the Walker Art Center, and is one of the most upscale of Wolfgang Puck’s current restaurants, you’d maybe expect the snootyness index to be high, but despite the dramatic dining room space and fusion menu, everything about 20.21 feels pretense-free. And everything I’ve tried there (granted, on two trips only) speaks hospitality through attention to every detail. Example from last night: a simple mini cheeseburger, perfectly cooked with a honey curry ketchup that put it over the top.
Both of my trips to 20.21 have been with the Sample Circuit, but I’ll definitely be going back on my own.
As a photographer you get to put yourself in a diverse collection of spaces to do your thing. One day it’s a sawdust-laden construction site, next it’s a cubicle farm. Sometimes it’s a beautiful, minimalist fine dining establishment in the region’s premier modern art museum.
Man, I like those days.
Yesterday I got to spend a few minutes with Asher Miller, Executive Chef at 20.21 Restaurant & Bar, the Wolfgang Puck restaurant in the Walker Art Museum. The concept of the restaurant is an interesting mix: the decor is monochrome with pink accents, the cuisine is Asian, and the service is French. And the kitchen is open to the dining room, as is the view to the expanse of traffic below. Nutty.
Asher is a really cool, down to earth guy. I discovered we have several things in common: we look kind of similar (as remarked upon by my Sample Circuit colleague, Melinda Feucht), we both spent a few years at Carleton College and have a complicated relationship with the place, and we both like Boca Chick’n Patties.
But what really made my day was when he told me I was the easiest photographer he’s worked with. And then he made me lunch, which was delicious: potstickers with a beautiful, mellow chinese dark vinegar and chili oil dipping sauce; a citrus chicken breast salad with candied cashews and crisp fried wonton strips; and a dessert sampler of chili merengue, cinnamon brownie, sesame caramel, and a bite of some Asian lemon/lime fruit tart that I forget the name of. A simple assortment of classic dishes, but the attention to each component made it exceptional.