Popular Minnesota Cooks program turns 10
By Carol Stender
Date Modified: 09/20/2012 9:45 AM
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Doug Peterson smiled as he talked about "Minnesota Cooks" at the state fair.
The Minnesota Farmers Union president started the program 10 years ago to connect consumers with locally grown foods.
Minnesota chefs give cooking demonstrations for one day from a Minnesota State Fair stage using locally grown ingredients.
It started at a time when farmers were talking about building consumer connections, Peterson said. He also wanted to start a dialogue with chefs.
"We were probably a little ahead of our time," Peterson said.
Each year, the program has seen more people attending at least one of the cooking sessions. Last year, around 8,000 came, said MFU membership director Bruce Miller.
For the first three years of Minnesota Cooks, celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern emceed the program. Several of the chefs are James Beard award winners. Some hail from white tablecloth restaurants and others from rural eateries.
"I am honored to be asked to be invited here," said Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts alumnus Victor Young. The Twin Cities baker kicked off the program by making a fruit dessert. "I live, eat and breathe pastry. It's great to share this with others."
St. Peter's River Rock Coffee chef Montana Rasmussen and local grower Adam Ellefson of Living Land Farm shared the stage for another cooking segment. Rasmussen used Ellefson's heirloom tomatoes to prepare a summer heirloom tomato salad and his farm's basil in a tasty lemonade.
"It was really an honor to take part," Rasmussen said. "They are doing something wonderful with this program. I think this is fantastic. There happens to be more people finding out about working with local farmers. They are using locally grown produce and are more sustainable. It was an honor be included in the Minnesota Cooks calendar with the other chefs and restaurants that are doing the same thing."
Local food is something to be promoted and celebrated, Miller said.
"We have been doing this for 10 years and we use the state fair as a stage," he said. "We show people how local foods can be prepared tastefully and simply. We have had a commitment to demonstrate that not only from white tablecloth restaurants but from other restaurants across the Twin Cities and throughout the state. Restaurants that make the effort to serve Minnesota locally grown foods are honored."
It isn't difficult to do.
Food is personal, Peterson said.
"I'm very proud of what this program has accomplished," he said. "We've been in lockstep with consumers' increasing concern about where their food comes from and who produces it. We're pleased to educate about not only where to purchase these products, including restaurants and retailers, but also the community connection that purchasing local, farm-fresh foods brings about."