Last month I had the chance to do some test shooting at Heartland Restaurant in St. Paul – a fun time on many levels.
I think of Chef Lenny Russo as the godfather of Minnesota farm to table cuisine. The success and longevity he’s had as a chef and as a restaurant owner is a testament to his skill, and to his ability to innovate. As is becoming more commonplace, Heartland sources locally, then finds unexpected applications for what many may consider unusual ingredients. Heartland just takes the concept to such a high level. For example, their exploration of the mushroom is amazing.
Chef Alan Bergo told me that last year Heartland used over 250 pounds of legally foraged mushrooms from around the Midwest, in a multitude of varieties. To hear him talk about mushrooms is to understand the passion and knowledge that everyone I dealt with on Heartland’s staff shares and brings to the plate.
I also had fun with Mike Campbell, Heartland’s head butcher, as he broke down half a pig, while we talked about the intricacies of curing meats and working at scale.
Thanks to Lenny and his crew for sharing their time and knowledge. And for putting out such comforting yet immaculate dishes.
Congratulations to Steven Brown on the successful opening of his new restaurant, Tilia, in Linden Hills. Andrew Zimmern posted a stellar review yesterday on one of his blogs, which I’m sure will be followed by more praise from the other critics in town.
Photographing the chefs and food that went in to The Culinary Mistress, we ended up setting up our roving photo studio in some. . . nontraditional spaces in order to accommodate the schedule of a chef: dining rooms during service, kitchens, back hallways crowded with ladders and spare 4-tops. My favorites were the chefs we photographed who were in the process of developing their next restaurant: Stewart Woodman prior to the opening of Heidi’s, Stephen Trojahn during the Gastro Truck off-season, and Steven Brown during the lead up to the newly-opened Tilia. Since these chefs didn’t have restaurants for us to invade, they opened their homes to us. And since there wasn’t the crush of responsibilities generally pressing down on an executive chef in the restaurant, we were able to have some great conversations.
Steven talked about the gastro-pub trend of the past several years, and about how the public’s growing embrace of craft beers has mirrored his own shift toward a cuisine that is much more approachable and affordable, but still well thought out and crafted. Based on Zimmern’s review, it sounds like Tilia is a perfect realization of Steven’s latest food thoughts, as well as exactly what tons of people (me included) are looking for these days in a restaurant.
I’ve had the good fortune to photograph Asher Miller several times over the past couple years, and I don’t just say that because he’s the only chef I’ve worked with who has, out of the blue, invited me to stick around after a shoot and cooked me lunch. Asher’s an artist and a professional who also happens to be a straight-up good guy. With me, he’s always been very giving of his time – and his food – as evidenced by his participation in my Rest Stop Gourmet project last summer, among other projects.
Earlier this week it was announced that 20.21′s run at the Walker will come to an end this Spring, which is too bad. 20.21 is a place that, under Asher’s guidance, crafted flavors beautifully, and created an atmosphere of hospitality and artistry that will be missed. But I can’t wait to see where Asher lands next; I hope that Puck doesn’t pull him out of town, because that would be the true loss to the Twin Cities food scene.
Chris Damskey is one stylish dude. Maybe it was because he was on vacation, in town for the weekend on his way to a friend’s wedding, but what impressed me photographing chef Damskey was his cool and ease. I guess another factor could’ve been that we got to roam outside for his portraits, since the weather had yet to turn over to winter, and being out in the world always helps a person feel more natural in front of the camera. In any case, Chris was great to hang out with for a few minutes, and a great portrait subject.
Chris’s recipes, prepared by Sea Change Executive Chef Erik Anderson, reflected his cool, and went perfectly with author Geri Wolf’s art direction: vivid reds and oranges in all three of his dishes, giving a very contemporary, saturated look to each plate. The carrot broth in particular, being poured from above in the book photograph, photographed beautifully.
Pastry chefs are magicians. They take raw ingredients, add some science, and come up with tastes and shapes and textures that are just. . . fun.
Diane Yang, of La Belle Vie fame, is one of the top, most talented pastry chefs in town. She’s also particularly nice and easy to work with. In fact, of all the chefs featured in “The Culinary Mistress,” Diane was one of the toughest to get to not smile. But just like any chef, she can kick ass when necessary, so we got through our shoot with some great images.