Kurt Michael Friese

Kurt Michael Friese is chef/owner of Devotay in Iowa City, serves on the Slow Food USA Board of Directors, and is editor-in-chief of the magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He is the author of two books, including A Cook's Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland and Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots on the Chile Trail (which he co-authored with Gary Nabhan and Kraig Kraft). He lives with his wife Kim in rural Johnson County.

Fork in the road

Let’s (re)do school lunch

Are corndogs a vegetable? There has been a cultural revolution in this country over the last 50 to 75 years, a sort of intellectual cleansing that has removed from most people’s minds any understanding of food, of cooking, of the pleasures of the kitchen and table, and replaced it with the language of the drive-thru, the shopping mall, and the convenience store. Michael Pollan recently addressed this problem well. Nowhere is this more evident than in our schools, where our kids are not taught about food and cooking, not even the “Home Economics” of my high school years. No, instead …

Andalucia in a bowl

From southern Spain, the king of summer soups

Spanish steps to the perfect summer soup.Like Penelope Cruz, my restaurant has a Spanish accent. I can’t quite say “theme,” because the menu is far from 100 percent Spanish; but we focus on tapas and serve classic preperations like paella and sangria. This time of year, our Spanish lilt mandates gazpacho. Some of the best dishes in the world were invented via that great mother, necessity: the necessity to get by on very little, or to make use of a soon-to-spoil abundance. Witness cassoulet, prosciutto, gumbo, quiche, bouillabaisse, pesto, etc. Gazpacho falls on the abundance side of that truism, as it …

Catch my drift?

With a gust of wind, an Iowa crop duster can squash an organic farm

A crop duster in action.Photo: Roger Smith via FlickrGrinnell Heritage Farm is 152 years old. Andrew Dunham is the fifth generation of his family to work this land about 50 miles east of Des Moines. He is a direct descendant of Josiah Grinnell, founder of the town and the man Horace Greeley once famously quoted as having said, “Go west, young man, go west.” Andrew and his wife Melissa are a few months shy of receiving their formal certification as an organic farm. Across the road, due north of their land, is a field of corn that is managed by …

Lunch-hour follies

As GOP politicians take the school-lunch debate to new lows, perk up with berry ice cream

Stick a spork in it: Is this really the best we can do?Photo: bookgrlA few years ago I was asked to serve on the Wellness Committee that was being formed by the Iowa City School District, under a federal mandate to improve the health of school children. Having made lunch every morning for my kids because I’d seen the “food” they were served in the cafeterias, I was pleased to have the opportunity. The result of my nearly two years of banging my head against the brick wall of district bureaucracy was the living example of the old Upton Sinclair …

Little feast on the prairie

From grass to grill, a Midwestern farm struts its stuff — and dishes up delicious lamb chops

The chefs of “Lambstravaganza.”The best part about my work with Slow Food USA is getting to experience new people, places, and especially great foods. Such was the case this past weekend as I traveled to join the members of Slow Food St. Louis for their fourth annual “Lambstravaganza” at Prairie Grass Farms just outside of New Florence, Mo. Prairie Grass Farms is in the capable hands of its third generation of Hillebrands. Dave Hillebrand runs the farm now, having inherited it from his father and grandfather before him. There they used to raise primarily row crops, but Dave took an …

Slicing and dicing reality

From “local” Lays to Oprah’s KFC promo, hypocrisy abounds in the food world

War is peace, junk food is real food….Nobody likes hypocrites, despite the fact that everyone is a hypocrite to one degree or another: the smoker who tells her kids not to smoke; the closeted politician who works against gay rights; the police officer who throws the book at stoners but who himself gets high. But in the matter of marketing food, hypocrisy reaches a fever pitch. Take last month’s flap about Oprah Winfrey’s KFC promotion. While the MSM focused on the feeding frenzy that ensued, and the near-riots when KFCs across the country ran out of food or people couldn’t …

Farm team

In the lush dirt of Iowa, community grows alongside veggies

ZJ Farms: Everyone’s a farmhandI had the pleasure the other day of visiting ZJ Farms, the anchor of Local Harvest CSA, which is one of the biggest in the area. Farmer (and pillar of the local food scene hereabouts) Susan Jutz has been running this organic farm for all the years I’ve been buying food around here. A walk on her farm gives you an understanding of the paintings of Grant Wood. In case you’re unfamiliar, CSA means community-supported agriculture –a new name for what family-scale farming used to be. These days it works very much like a magazine subscription. …

Ultra-Healthy or Overindulgent?

What we eat when we eat alone

My dear friend Deborah Madison has created a delightful book called What We Eat When We Eat Alone, an investigation into some of our most intimate moments.  When no one is looking, no one is judging, and your most secret cravings can come out, what do you eat? And how? As a companion/intro, Deb has created this YouTube video (less than 5 minutes long — watch below) interviewing a few of the many people she spoke to for the book.  All walks of life are there, and the responses are fascinating, tell-tale vignettes in their own right.  Illustrations are provided …

Sorrel of the story

From a zingy spring herb, a soup for sipping on the porch

Leaves of sassbeckyannisonGardeners and gastronomes fawn over sorrel — and almost everyone else ignores it. That’s a shame. An early-spring green with brash lemony flavor that comes from an abundance of oxalic acid, sorrel is a powerful addition to soups and sauces, and tasty in salads when picked young. The herb is classified in the genus Rumex, and its origins lie somewhere in what is now Russia, where the Ural Mountains divide Asia from Europe. It was well known in Roman times, though not cultivated since it was plentiful in the wild. Culinary historians find it falling in and out …

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