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.

When the basil plants get out of control, reach for the mortar and pestle

Mortarin’ pesto. September in Iowa always brings the same delicious dilemma — what to do with all that basil. Few herbs are as surrounded by mythology and folklore as basil. Its origins are debated, but most seem to think it came from India. There, the plant offered innumerable culinary uses: A devout Hindu has a leaf of basil placed on his breast when he dies, as a passport to paradise. Basil figures in Christian tradition as well. It was the herb Salome used to cover the smell of decay from John the Baptist’s head. Then there’s Haitian Voodoo practice, where …

A few thoughts on an amazing event — and a recipe for a delectably slow-cooked pasta sauce

Say cheese: a sample of Slow Food Nation’s Taste Pavilion. Photo: Russ Walker It’s going to take me more than just a few days to fully understand the effects and implications of the first Slow Food Nation, held in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend. The brain power on display was impressive enough: Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, Michael Pollan, Winona LaDuke, Carlo Petrini, Raj Patel, Eric Schlosser, and other luminaries took center stage at panels. Add to that the myriad of other events and mind-blowing food, and you get a truly unforgettable event for the thousands who attended. Despite the …

When the tomato harvest gets out of hand, the tough get canning

Too much of a good thing? Photos: Kurt Michael Friese For a tomato-loving gardener, what’s the only thing more frightening than a failed crop? Try an overabundant one. You become terrified that any of these jewels will go to waste. The specter of fruit flies congregating on the compost heap brings regret of over-ambitious spring garden planning. Even in my restaurant garden, which has the advantage of a commercial outlet, the burden of preserving it all can be heavy. Well, take heart, gentle reaper: There is plenty that can be done with all that red, green, and gold bounty. This …

The dog days of summer mean bountiful farm stands and spicy salsas

This is the time of year we flatlanders pine for the snows of January, when it’s a full 100 degrees colder than it is right now, and all the humidity is frozen to our windshields. August in Iowa may be unbearable for humans, but vegetables love it — the hot, sticky dog days bring us sweet corn (different from the “field” corn that feeds confined hogs and ethanol plants), hot peppers, and the very first tomatoes. At this time of the year in Iowa City, you can shop at farmers markets every day of the week, if you pay attention …

After a mass bike ride across Iowa, a slow-food chef picks up the pace

Do the ride thing. Photo: David Wade Every year for the last 36, Iowa plays host to a unique event. At the beginning of the last full week of July, more than 15,000 people dip the rear tires of their bicycles in the Missouri River — and seven days and about 450 miles later, they dunk their front tires in the Mississippi. That ceremonial immersion draws to a close a ride that is sometimes called “Burning Man on Wheels,” or “The World’s Longest Pub Crawl,” but is formally referred to as RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. …

Simple cooking can produce delicious results — like old-fashioned Austrian pancakes

Get cooking, sonny. Too many people in this country have been sold a bill of goods. They’ve been tricked, flim-flammed, conned, and hustled. They’ve been bamboozled into believing that food comes wrapped in plastic from the freezer at the nearest Walmart. They’ve learned to believe that cooking is a chore — like laundry or washing windows — to be avoided if at all possible and then done only grudgingly when it can’t be. I understand that some people just plain don’t like to cook. That’s fine. But there are also those who would actually enjoy it, if they hadn’t been …

Iowa’s chefs and their farmer-suppliers get busy recovering from disaster

Roads and restaurants may be closed, but Iowa is getting back on its feet. Photo: Kurt Michael Friese The weather here in Iowa City has been gorgeous for more than a week. Is Mother Nature trying to make amends? While she smiles on us, she’s still causing trouble for our friends to the south. The horrendous flooding continues, breeching nearly every levee it encounters in Missouri and Illinois, and leaving behind a litany of statistics that indicate the millions of lives affected. In Iowa alone, we’ve got 36,000 new homeless folks, and 3 million inundated acres of farmland. And then …

As storms rage on the prairie, strawberries and rhubarb bring comfort

A bright spot in the storm. Gaia has been hard on us prairie-dwellers lately. A dear friend who’s the director of the area’s largest CSA lost her 102-year-old barn to a storm this weekend. Swelled with recent rains, the Iowa River has been raging, sloshing toward levels never seen before. Fortunately, my restaurant sits on high ground, so if the floods reach us here, you’ll see the animals lining up two by two and Kevin Costner frowning from the roof. We’re lucky, too, that many of the local farms that supply us are also keeping their heads above water, and …

Toward a civil, inclusive national conversation on food — over a savory tart

As the date for Slow Food Nation — the big sustainable-food conference scheduled in San Francisco this coming August — draws near, I’ve been thinking about attitudes toward food in the erstwhile Fast Food Nation. Like a big pot of water that’s been on high heat seemingly forever, our national conversation on food seems to be reaching a boil at long last. Slow Food Nation. Now, my world revolves around food, so I may not be the most reliable gauge of such things. I have a tendency to assume everyone shares my obsession — to the point where I am …

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