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.

Got weeds? Reach for the food processor, not the lawnmower

Around this time of year, all the foodies in my neck of the woods are, well, in the woods. Spring and fall are the best wild food foraging times around here, and as if ol’ Mother Nature knew our food prices were going through the roof and transportation costs skyrocketing, she’s brought us a cornucopia of wild edibles out there, free for the taking. Nettles, how sweet thy sting. Photo: Kurt Michael Friese Besides the morels I spoke of recently (did I mention my son found some 10 feet from our back door?), we find oyster and velvet foot and …

Duck!

Chicago overturns 2-year old ordinance banning foie gras

In The New York Times Dining section yesterday, I read this: Chicagoans can feast on foie gras once more. The Chicago City Council just repealed the ban on its sale that it put in place two years ago. Now I know that many of my vegan friends will go ballistic on me when I say that this is a good thing, but this is a good thing. The animal rights groups who supported this measure did so because they saw it as a layup -- an easy target. Who would oppose a ban on something only rich, snobby, hoity-toity gourmands consume? Besides the measure being silly government intervention, it reminded me of the folks who say they won't eat veal because they heard it was cruel ... as they pull up to the KFC drive thru. Banning foie gras saves a few ducks and geese. Wanna make a difference? Ban CAFOs. You needn't stop eating meat (unless of course you want to, that's entirely up to you), just stop eating feedlot meat. Get your beef, pork, and chicken from the farmer down the road, from the farmers market, from a CSA. Trust the source, and you'll trust the food.

CSAs can transform Iowa’s farm economy — and take its sandwiches to the next level

Getting fresh. Here in Iowa, the farmers markets are just emerging from hibernation, and with them the CSAs. Community-supported agriculture is not a new idea, but it certainly has been gaining ground over the past few years as ideas such as “local” and “sustainable” migrate from the fringes to the center. For the uninitiated, CSAs operate a lot like magazine subscriptions. You find one whose content you like, pay your money up front, and receive weekly allotments of fresh local produce, dairy, eggs, flowers, and sometimes meat. CSAs offer a great way to “go local,” and they present you with …

An earthy recipe for treading lightly on earth and pocketbook alike

As Earth Day approaches this year, it seems that people are thinking more about food’s price than its ecological footprint. A simple trip to the grocery store tells the same story we’ve been hearing on the news: it’s getting more and more expensive to feed ourselves. The morel of the story. I’ve been thinking a lot about food prices, too. After holding off for almost a year, I raised the prices at my restaurant. I was able to avoid it longer than some of my fellow restaurant owners, partly because I have relatively low overhead: a small space and a …

The Age of Asparagus dawned in Roman times, but the time to eat it is now

Asparagus may be associated with spring, but there’s nothing new about it. It’s been gracing tables — to the joy of some diners and the horror of others — for at least two thousand years. In the earliest known cookbook, De Re Culinaria (circa A.D. 100), proto-foodie Marcus Apicius recommends pounding asparagus tips with black pepper, lovage, coriander, savory, onion, wine, oil (presumably from olives), eggs, and a kind of fermented, fish-flavored sauce — all then to be baked, then seasoned with more pepper. Look who’s stalking. Photo: Kurt Friese Sounds like a sort of dip, ancient Rome’s answer to …

Bruce Sterling & Metropolis miss the point

Responding to a wrongheaded assault on Slow Food

The March, 2008 issue of Metropolis focuses on the overarching idea of localism and its relationship to sustainability. It is as always a beautiful and well-written issue, but in it one particular columnist, Bruce Sterling, has taken Slow Food to task -- accusing us once again of that old canard, elitism. It is not true, nor is it always such a bad thing anyway. Bear in mind that most of the great social movements throughout history were begun by the so-called "elite" (witness abolition and suffrage, not to mention that Ghandi was a well-to-do attorney). But the places Mr. Sterling gets it wrong are so manifold it's hard to know where to start. Let's try here: The Cornish Pilchard. The Chilean Blue Egg Hen. The Cypriot Tsamarella and Bosnian Sack Cheese. You haven't seen these foods at McDonald's because they are strictly local rarities championed by Slow Food, the social movement founded to combat the proliferation of fast food. McDonald's is a multinational corporation: it retails identical food products on the scale of billions, repeatedly, predictably, worldwide. Slow Food, the self-appointed anti-McDonald's, is a "revolution" whose aim is a "new culture of food and life." Actually you haven't seen these foods at McDonald's because McDonald's sells hamburgers. Here Mr. Sterling has blundered by believing that who/what Slow Food is is somehow stagnant and monolithic. If such things were true then the US would still be a few puritan slave owners dotted up and down the east coast. Or the Chicago Cubs would have been the National League power for the last century. He goes on ... Slow Food began as a jolly clique of leftist academics, entertainers, wine snobs, and pop stars, all friends of Italian journalist and radio personality Carlo Petrini. I've often wondered what it is about food and wine that makes those who appreciate it automatically labeled "snobs." Wine is just fermented grape juice, actually one of the simplest foods known to man. For some reason the person who appreciates the inner workings of an internal combustion engine is not a snob, but someone who likes a well-made buerre blanc is.

Warm up over a bowl of chili — while planning your spring vegetable patch

Editor’s note: Welcome to the first installment of Chef’s Diary, a new biweekly recipe column by Iowa-based chef Kurt Michael Friese. Follow the seasons with a professional chef — and get tips for cooking at home. Seeds of our content. Photo: run dorkas run As the last of last fall’s bounty comes out of the larder at my Iowa City restaurant, my wife Kim has been poring over seed catalogs, trying to shake the chill of a particularly nasty prairie winter. Eagerness to plant supplants many other priorities as she rifles through each newly arrived issue like a 12-year-old boy …

Conviviality is its own reward

Gathering around a table as environmental advocacy

Gazing over the muddy brown expanse that the abating snows finally revealed in mid-March, it has been hard for me to imagine the lush greenery and flavorful bounty that our gardens will yield in just a few short months. But even by the time you read these words, radishes and spinach will have sprouted again. The curly tendrils of spring's first sweet peas will be stretching, aching for a grip on a trellis and an arc of precious sunlight. The warmth will return, as it always does, and with it, the promise of a table full of delicious food surrounded by the people we love. It is an old word: convivial. Its Latin roots refer literally to "living together." We are drawn to conviviality by our very human nature, our need for companionship and warmth. Yet in today's fast-paced, technology-driven, I-get-mine-first world, we regularly sacrifice that which made us human in the first place, that which built our society -- our fundamental need for food and the camaraderie that was born of that need.

Forbidden fruits (and vegetables)

Why the USDA wants to stop local food

This is one of those "in case you missed it" kind of posts. In yesterday's New York Times, Minnesota farmer Jack Hedin wrote an op-ed that shows very clearly how the federal deck is stacked against small, sustainable, local farms and in favor of Earl Butz's "get-big-or-get-out" mentality. The commodity farm program effectively forbids farmers who usually grow corn or the other four federally subsidized commodity crops (soybeans, rice, wheat and cotton) from trying fruit and vegetables. Because my watermelons and tomatoes had been planted on "corn base" acres, the Farm Service said, my landlords were out of compliance with the commodity program. I never ceased to be amazed at the all-encompassing power of the Golden Rule (The One Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules).