Photo courtesy of Tracy Singleton
Tracy Singleton started the Birchwood Café 20 years ago in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood, and it quickly became a touchstone for the community, one of the first restaurants in the Twin Cities to embrace the farm-to-table movement. Her new cookbook, Good Real Food, came out this fall, and here she talks to JuiceBox about getting kids to eat healthy, public school lunches and eating pie for breakfast.
What inspired you to write a cookbook?
Well, the cookbook has been in the works for 10 years. We wanted to invite people to cook with food and relate with food the way we do at the Birchwood, but in their homes. The first extension of bringing Birchwood home was our granola, which we offer at many of the co-ops and local groceries around town. So this was another way of taking all the values and things that are very important to us—knowing where your food comes from and being connected to it and having that relationship—and just sharing that with people as they’re cooking at home. It’s a beautiful book, but it’s a cookbook that we want people to actually use.
Is your daughter a picky eater, or is she pretty adventurous?
She is a good eater. We eat here all the time—we live right next door. Being a one-parent household, having this place is a godsend. We’re so spoiled. The time it takes to grocery shop and cook . . . if you don’t have that good chunk of time on a Sunday to set yourself up for the week and you’re a busy working parent, it’s really hard. All of a sudden it’s Friday night again and you’re like, “What just happened?”
Do you have any advice for parents who want to make sure their kids are eating well at home?
Kids will eat what we feed them and teach them. If you think kids won’t eat broccoli, then you won’t buy it and you won’t try to feed your kid broccoli, and they certainly won’t eat it at Birchwood. If you give your kids the opportunity and expose them early to good food, they will like that. . . .The results at the end of the day are like, wow. But the prevailing food system that we have—that’s not pure food, that’s not clean food, it’s the least expensive products that can be mass-produced and sold for the least amount. That’s the norm. But I live in a little bubble over here, so I am always concerned about sounding judgy or preachy, because I didn’t grow up with this kind of food. I didn’t have this knowledge until I got a job at Lucia’s in my early 20s, which was just so eye-opening to me and transformed my whole relationship with food. Which is why we do what we do—and the way we do it—here.
You and Birchwood chef Marshall Paulsen are involved with the True Food Chef Council and Minneapolis Public Schools. Tell us about that.
The role of the True Food Chef Council when we started it was to really highlight for the greater community, for parents and teachers, the changes that Bertrand Weber [director of MPS Culinary & Nutrition Services] is trying to make. There was a period when school food really did suck, it was horrible, but he’s made some major changes. And you talk about trying to turn a huge ship, that’s the Minneapolis Public Schools food system. So we’re there to highlight and raise awareness that things are getting better. Is it the best food in the world? I’m not going to say that, but it doesn’t suck, it’s not bad for you, it’s not unhealthy. . . . He has this whole protocol about ingredients of concern, so no artificial colors, no artificial flavorings, no additives. And he does a lot of local procurement now, so the first Thursday of the month in all Minneapolis public schools they serve a lunch that’s all locally sourced. It’s great.
What’s one thing about Thanksgiving that you love?
You know, it sounds funny but my favorite thing about Thanksgiving is pumpkin pie for breakfast.