I heart the Twin Cities
Living in the Bay Area it’s easy to feel smug about all the wonderful farms, local produce and restaurants we have. But one of the great things about working on Food Forward is I get to discover the food scenes in other parts of the country and I’m here to tell you the San Francisco Bay Area is not the center of the good food world. And that’s a good thing.
A strong movement requires many fronts and out in the Mid-West, the Twin Cities are holding it down admirably. I visited Minneapolis and St. Paul about four years and was impressed with the variety and strength of the area’s food scene. There are good and even great restaurants by the dozen. They know how to eat in the Twin Cities and they do it without the benefit of a sunny climate and year round fresh produce. Today Greg and I are wrapping up a trip to Minnesota to raise funds and meet the excellent people at Haberman, Food Forward’s new PR and marketing agency. I’m impressed anew with the vitality of the area’s local food scene and commitment to a greener, more sustainable regional food economy.
Thanks to my old friend and our Twin Cities host Doug Utter, Greg and I had some great meals (and great beer!) at places like Brasa, Haute Dish, 312 Eatery, The Local, the Red Stag Supperclub, and Sea Salt. These restaurants not only serve inspired cuisine, but they draw on the diversity and strength of the upper Mid-West’s many farms, creameries and ranches.
No place impressed me as much as 9-month-old Heartland, a St. Paul restaurant/market/charcuterie operation. Chef and owner Lenny Russo describes himself as both “the Che Guevara of the food world” for his left-wing politics, but also “the second coming of Adam Smith” because of his belief in a market-based approach to a reinvigorated regional food economy. I just call him food forward.
“We believe the way to affect change is going to be at the grassroots level and for people to become educated and concerned about what it is they’re doing when they feed themselves, not just to their bodies and their children, but to the environment as well,” Russo told me. Amen to that.
Russo champions local food in a way that few restaurants do. Just about every ingredient is local. In some cases he buys all the production of nearby farms and ranches, ensuring his purveyors have a predictable revenue stream, an arrangement that allows them to save on marketing and transportation. By doing so Russo is helping to keep local treasures like the Russet apple and the wooly, fantastically delicious Mangalitsa hog financially viable. Russo’s walk-in coolers and even some corner office spaces are loaded with legs of Mangalitsa on their way to becoming prosciutti (that’s the plural of proscuitto, don’t you know). He’s got plans to sell his proscuitti wholesale in the coming years. Keep and eye out for it.
What’s so inspiring about Russo and his Mid-West food emporium is he’s proving that locavore foodie idealism and profitability aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they go together deliciously.