THE CHEF FARMER
A funny thing happened on the way to Napa. Stephen Jones, an East Coast chef who was moving out West, had a kid and landed in his wife’s home territory: the Land of Lakes. You know what happens from there, don’t you? You stay and open a little award-winning joint, like Stewart Woodman did. Or you bring oysters to the streets of St. Paul, like Russell Klein. Or you find yourself with a bunch of pigs—gorgeously, fabulously tasty and woolly pigs.
Jones ended up on 20 acres with a house and Swedish barn in Taylors Falls. That much room isn’t good for a chef. He has to fill it either with crops, animals, cheese-making equipment, or kids. Flipping through Saveur one day, Jones spotted a great woolly beast and chose Mangalitsa pigs.
The heritage breed, once bred only for Austrian royalty, is known for its intense marbling and goodly amount of fat; the flavor is prized by chefs such as Thomas Keller. Jones is one of only a few farmers across the country raising the hearty pigs, which love the outdoors and harsh winters. Jones started with four hogs on their land, growing them from feedling stage until they were a little older than a year, taking twice the time that conventional hogs are grown. Once they were ready, Lenny Russo of Heartland took all four. The next year Jones bought 20, which came with a huge wake-up call. It was a crazy amount of work and care for the animals, which ate more food for more months in order to cultivate that prized fatty flesh. While most hogs are simply finished on barley, the Jones hogs are fed a mix of barley and oats all year long.
Oh, and by the way, he still hasn’t quit his night job. Jones is the executive sous-chef at Salut in Edina and works shifts when he’s not out with the pigs. To showcase his porky wonder, he and Tim McKee hosted a Mangalitsa dinner at the restaurant. A few eaters were so impressed that they ordered a half-hog for themselves, and Jones butchered it the Austrian way to stay true to the pig.
His business is just taking off, and while he’s trying to get into the Fulton Farmers Market and knock on some other chefs’ doors, it’s not easy. The pork is more expensive due to its breed and the practices with which Jones raises them, but he really believes in the pigs and is willing to work both sides of the line to bring the magic of Mangalitsa to local eaters.
We have our fair share of fabulous drinkmeisters in this town, and plenty of them have received national attention. Johnny Michaels gets picked up in Esquire once in a while. Pip Hanson has had some serious love from Bon Appetit. And the Bittercube Boys have been splashed all over, including on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. So who’s next? There are plenty of guys and gals who could bubble up as the next big mixer to get national attention, but the up-and-coming barman in town is Jesse Held.
Currently the president of the locally founded North Star Bartender’s Guild, Held is a natural leader. He was in charge of orchestrating the Iron Bartender competition—a crazy endeavor involving 16 bartending teams competing over four weeks. He’s rattled around the industry from bar to bar, including the opening of Marvel and Eat Street Social, and has finally found a roost to call his own. Held is now the director of beverage and head bartender at Parlour in the North Loop.
What sets Held apart is that he is at once a force for the forward movement of drinking and mixology and truly an old-school soul. He wears the digs that are fashionable these days, but he almost wears the vest and tie without irony. When you sit at his bar, he doesn’t forget that only half of the agreement is the drink; the other half is the service of that drink, and it should be more than a show of shaking. Held doesn’t make you work for it, he’s generous with his personality, and he doesn’t seem to take life (or himself) too seriously. Plus, he makes a mean cocktail. If you need more proof, look at the cast he has assembled behind his bar. They followed him for a reason.
It seems no accident that his basement-level bar is the only one with street windows and that he chose a Mad Men soundtrack and overstuffed chairs for the joint. There are no velvet ropes or secret passwords, just an inviting barman waving you in. As it should be.
THE KNIFE GUY
A chef’s knife is more than just a blade and a handle, it’s an extension of the arm. TJ Stockdale knows this because he’s been a chef for years on the line; he understands that working with good blades that have been cared for can make all the difference. And yet working the hours they do, some cooks don’t have the time or skill to really hone their knives, which is where Stockdale’s big idea came in. He would come to them.
Chef’s Edge is a truck that’s really a chef’s mobile toy box. Inside are knives of all make and manner stuck to magnetic boards. There are scoops, peelers, spoons, and thermometers bungeed to peg board that covers the walls and ceiling. Also in the truck are wheels he uses to skillfully sharpen blades.
Stockdale pulls up to a restaurant, and the kitchen can stock up right on the spot or the individual can have his blade honed for less than $4. Chef Russell Klein and his cooks at Meritage are fans. “I love the convenience, and his prices have been really competitive,” says Klein. “The knife sharpening service is great. Some cooks can be really personal with their knives and won’t let anyone touch them, but it’s been great for my prep staff to have some really sharp knives. It’s very cool to see a guy like TJ identify a need and start a business to serve it. As the chef community grows in the Twin Cities, these sorts of services are exactly what we need.”
But Stockdale is doing something else that’s even more important. A small portion of his business comes from new restaurants that don’t have the budget for fancy knives, so Stockdale supplies them with a set of his, free of charge, and just shows up every two weeks to sharpen them. All they pay for is the sharpening service, which, in the early days of a ramp-up, could make all the difference for a bourgeoning restaurant on the cutting edge.
THE NEXT GEN
Stock and Badge
How does one go about building an empire? Phil Roberts was a designer who had never worked in a restaurant when he took on a freakish space in St. Paul and crafted Muffuletta. It was his kicker, and from there he built Parasole. But truly he’s the exception, not the norm. You’ve heard the stat, the one trotted out to every hopeful, that 50 percent of all restaurants fail. That has less to do with restaurants and more to do with corporate executives who throw great dinner parties and think they can become the next Roberts.
What if the next empire isn’t built on starry-eyed dreams but on well-honed craft? What if the people involved have already been through the fires alone and survived? No, thrived? Please welcome to the stage Stock and Badge.
The company formed by Erick Harcey of Victory 44, Steve Horton of Rustica Bakery, and Dan Anderson and Greg Hoyt of Dogwood Coffee is a collection of individuals who have all received acclaim for excelling at what they do—coffee, bread, and porky goodness. Out of admiration for each other’s crafts, they’ve banded together for the greater good.
“We have a mission. It’s to stand behind quality food with quality ingredients and create places that aren’t cliché,” Harcey notes. Pushing the envelope may be important, but not at all costs. “We want to be a force on the food scene, but we have rules. We collectively made a pact that this company will grow through its people. We can only move forward through those we help grow.” Sounds like a guy who works on the line.
Parka, their first creation, came barreling out of the gate with great elements: a cool vibe, good ingredients, and an edgy menu of comfort food that is as surprising as it is satisfying. And signs of the collaboration have already shown up at Rustica, where Harcey has worked up a full menu of small plates, soups, salads, and of course sandwiches to go with the phenomenal breads. The next project will likely be a commissary to support all the current and future pieces of the pie. Building in support on the front end? Who do these guys think they are? Empire builders, that’s who.