Your must see places may be pig barns and Fine Arts buildings. Or perhaps you're more of the Butterfly House and Minnesota Wine Bar type. One of my State Fair must-do events each year is the day when local farmers and talented chefs get together to create their little vignettes of deliciousness known as Minnesota Cooks. Each segment features two local chefs who partner up with two local/regional farmers to highlight their wonderful ingredients...what could be better?
It may sound a little boring if you're not into cooking shows, but I assure you this isn't just about the chef presentations. If you have time next year and are looking for a good excuse to sit down and rest your legs, this is the place. Not only will you walk away with a better understanding of the farmers and their work, but there's also the added benefit of free samples!
I missed Mary Lahammer this year, but always look forward to seeing Strip Club Chef JD Fratzke host the event, as he brings his unique and entertaining perspective to the conversation. He's got a healthy respect for and understanding of food. This makes for thoughtful chatter with the panels and the farmers.
But most impressive (and tasty) is how the amazing chefs spin this bounty of local ingredients into culinary gold. Think: wild rice meatloaf, summer corn & faro cakes, unique sunflower aioli and mayo, and something called root beer grits. I mean, how much does that make you want to run into your kitchen?! And there's more...much more.
This year's pairings include the likes of Prairie Pride Pork and Nina Wong from Chin Dian Café; Marshall Farms and Bryce Lamb from Söntés; Au Bon Canard and James Winberg & Mike Brown of Travail Kitchen & Amusements, and many others throughout the day (see the complete list here). I was lucky enough to taste Lucia Watson's delicious and comforting Braised Chicken with Tomatoes & Heirloom Beans and the nutty and beautifully creamy Barley Risotto with Lamb & Skyr (a yogurt cheese) from Ian Pierce of 128 Café. I sincerely wished I could have sat there the entire day. Instead I grabbed the calendar and made off like a thief in the night. If I couldn't sit there and grub, I could recreate some of the dishes at home.
This year's Minnesota Cooks™ Food from the Farm calendar, published by the Minnesota Farmers Union, is chock full of creative uses for our local ingredients. (For more information & history about the Minnesota Cooks™ organization, check out Jill Grunewald's post from last year.) All of the recipes presented at the State Fair are included in the calendar (and, though their website is down at the time of this writing, I believe the recipes are featured there as well). What will you try?
Tracy Morgan is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. She also runs Segnavia Creative, a business development and marketing firm, and is co-owner of the new Kitchen in the Market. Tracy serves on the board of directors for the Mississippi Market Natural Food Co-op in St. Paul.