'The Farmer and The Chef' celebrates Southeast Minnesota farmers, restaurants and recipes
Recipes from Bleu Duck, Forager Brewery and Tonic are included in the book.
"The Farmer and the Chef" would be tantalizing enough for Southeast Minnesota foodies even if it were a run-of-the-mill cookbook.
But this is a cookbook that aspires to be something more.
One thing that separates it from traditional cookbooks is its focus on home-grown recipes. Within its pages, you'll find recipes from well-known area restaurants such as Forager Brewery, Bleu Duck Kitchen, Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery, and Tonic Local Kitchen & Juice Bar.
Woven throughout are the stories of Minnesota farmers and their partnerships with restaurant owners and chefs that make the farm-to-table movement possible. By sourcing directly from area farmers (oftentimes at no small inconvenience), they help support farms such as Blue Fruit Farm in Winona and Earth-Be-Glad and Capra Nera Creamery in Altura.
And the proof is in the recipes.
"It's not just that idyllic farm scene with a perfect red barn and waking up to the rooster crowing. Farmers really go through a lot to bring quality, nutrient-dense food to our plates," said Claudine Arndt, the cookbook's author.
The book includes more than 90 recipes and 18 stories of featured farms, all packed with photos of farm life and food.
One recipe, Minnesota Sweet Corn, from Forager chef David Bredesen, features corn sprinkled with "semi-hard, aged goat cheese" made by Capra Nera Creamery in Altura, along with aioli.
Capra Nera is Italian for "black goat," owner Katie Bonow explained. The "goat" refers to her goat dairy operation, and the "black" is a play on "black sheep."
"What I'm doing is a little different than what a lot of people are doing around here," she said.
Bonow grew up on a small dairy farm in Southeast Minnesota, and has been around goats for 20 years, calling it a "long-term relationship." Her customers include Nosh in Winona, Root River Unwined Wine Bar in Winona, and Fat Pats BBQ in Spring Grove.
"It's definitely challenging," she said. "Some years are more challenging than others, but it is what I do. There's not much else that I think could enjoy as much as I enjoy this."
The book was inspired by a program called Minnesota Cooks. Every year, the Minnesota Farmers Union, a nonprofit that supports family farms and rural life, gathers recipes from chefs and restaurant owners, and chooses 12 of them to illustrate farm-to-table partnerships around the state.
The recipes are then published in an annual calendar, which became a mini cookbook of sorts, with a featured recipe each month.
"The whole idea is really to help connect people more to farmers and to the source of their food, to the businesses that choose to work directly with farmers, providing them with a really important stream of income that helps support their livelihoods," said writer Arndt, who also manages Minnesota Cooks.
The program has been around for 19 years, and over time, an "amazing cache" of submitted recipes has been amassed.
Creating a cookbook seemed like a natural progression, but it was also understood to be a "massive" undertaking by the farm union. Then it got a push from a publisher, Globe Pequot, which asked for a cookbook proposal, and the ball got rolling.
The book was created by Arndt, photographer Katie Cannon, and Bruce Miller in February 2019. Miller, who helped shape the vision for the book and got the concept approved by the union's executive committee, died of cancer toward the end of 2019.
The book was supposed to be published last July, but was delayed due to COVID-19. It was officially released June 15.
Also featured is Blue Fruit Farm, a 5-acre organic farm 12 miles south of Winona that grows blueberries, black currants and elderberries. High in antioxidants and packed with flavor, the blueberries are extolled by customers as the best they've ever had, said farm owner Jim Riddle.
"We put a lot of effort into taking care of the soil and building up the health of the land, and it's reflected in the health of the crop," he said. "And the author captured that in a very lyrical prose that conveys our values."
Arndt describes the book as a "walk down memory lane" through Minnesota's dining scene, as it includes recipes from restaurants that have closed, as well as those still in business. The book, for example, includes a recipe from Tonic, which closed during the pandemic.
"We really wanted recipes from places that were very influential in helping to shape the farm-to-table dining scene," Arndt said.
"The Farmer and the Chef" is available at Barnes & Noble at Apache Mall, the Rochester Public Library, and through online booksellers. On Saturday, July 10, Blue Fruit Farm will host the Co-op Farm Tour and Driftless Grown Vendor Fair, and offer you-pick blueberries and black currants at the farm 12 miles south of Winona. Author Claudine Arndt and photographer Katie Cannon will be at the farm from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a book signing and sale.