Let’s all extend hearty and warm congratulations to Paul Berglund, who just won the 2016 James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest, thus joining the illustrious ranks of Tim McKee, Isaac Becker, and Alex Roberts. We are proud of you! You have brought honor to our city. What else can we say? Just this: Folks, if you haven’t been to The Bachelor Farmer lately you should know a shocking secret about the spot. They’re making perhaps the best gnocchi in town.
Yes, I know it’s a northern focused farm and Nordic fare restaurant. Hear me out.
I stopped in the bar the other night, and tried a few little things, like a salt-cured foie gras with aged and roasted root vegetables. It was every kind of wonderful—buttery and light as a feather, from chef Paul Berglund’s technique of cutting the foie into paper-thin ribbons, beautifully contrasting with the sour and salty bits of beet. A remarkable contrast of light, rich, and earthy—just nothing but grace.
Salt-cured Fois Gras
I had a few thoughts about how Minnesota really is the foie gras capital of America, and turned my attention to the gnocchi. Gnocchi in a local Bent River camembert sauce, with flecks of ramps. Gnocchi as tender as clouds, gnocchi like fat little vapors fallen to earth, cloaked in a wash of good local funk, and perked up with ramps. Each bite was as tender as could be, lighter than a sunbeam, and yet so seductively rich. I can’t think of a better gnocchi I’ve ever had in Minnesota, except perhaps for the obvious front-runners like the ones at Bar La Grassa and Broders' Pasta Bar, and the pan-fried incarnations at Tilia and 112, which are obviously different. But gnocchi in the house that has most aggressively branded itself as the Deep North? What up with that?
Turns out Berglund and gnocchi have been reunited after a long separation, forced on them by the unforgiving demands of an uncompromising society. They might well be the Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles of local gnocchi love stories!
“My cooking background is in Italian food,” Berglund told me, referencing his work at Oliveto, in California. “But for four years, at The Bachelor Farmer, we never served pasta. It's one of my cooking loves. Because we started out as a restaurant one way, I kind of convinced myself that that door was closed to pasta, of every sort, and of gnocchi. But for the past five months we’ve been serving pasta on and off as a special, and lately put it on our menu. It’s not an innovative cooking technique, but it’s one that provides me so much satisfaction as a cook. I get to make it, and I get to teach my cooks how to make it, which is something I feel I can really do well. I’m so particular about pasta, I didn’t do it for a long time because when I did it I wanted to do it right.”
And now it’s being done right! So, gnocchi-heads, give everything you thought you knew about gnocchi and Bachelor Farmer another think. Our newest James Beard award winner has secrets yet to discover.