As the hurried frenzy of the holidays descends upon us, even the most mindful diners can get caught up in the seasonal time crunch, losing touch with our dining experiences. Take a break and linger over the stories and messages behind a new cookbook by Iowa chef Kurt Michael Friese for a hearty serving of appreciation for our food sources: A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.
As a Wisconsin farmer myself, it tickles me to see the spotlight on the Midwest’s rich culinary scene once again. Too often we get stereotyped by dominating images of corn and other tasteless monocrops. Sadly, this burgeoning, vibrant local, sustainable food scene goes unnoticed.
But as Friese so aptly summarizes of his passion for our nation’s heartland, historically many great centers of the world’s diverse culinary heritage have centered on the core of a nation’s grain belt, such as France, German, India or China. This inspired Friese to deeply explore thirteen Midwest states – from Ohio to Oklahoma to North Dakota – to discover some of the most innovative, sustainable and creative culinary practices around today.
From farmers to chefs, markets to community ventures, A Cook’s Journey emphasizes the importance of interconnection and interdependency in creating a vibrant, localized food system. While the book showcases tempting specialty recipes, Friese poignantly admits in the introduction that he didn’t intend to write a cookbook. Drawing on his experience founding the first Slow Food convivium in Iowa (today there are five) and his roots as the chef and owner of Devotay in Iowa City, Friese authentically narrates the stories of Midwesterners doing extraordinary things to start turning the tides of our complex food system that offers great food grown where we actually live. Imagine that.
A Cook’s Journey particularly offers an inspiring read during this seasonal time of year, when we’re all looking for a hearty helping of hope for the future. Friese provides the stories and context, leading readers to come to their own lessons such these three insights:
1. Seek Your Maker
You can’t help but start planning a roadtrip after reading the profiles in A Cook’s Journey. And the great part about that is: you can. As travel and the local food movement increasingly intersect, there wonderfully exists a bounty of experiential opportunities, from farm visits to winery tours. A rich appendix provides contacts and resources by state.
2. Rethink Food Assumptions
Shed your food stereotypes and you will be pleasantly surprised at the vibrant local food and sustainable agriculture scene throughout the Midwest. Granted, people still link corn to Iowa agriculture. But Iowa also has more farmers’ markets per capita than any other state.
3. Leave the Table Satisfied
We may joke about the frenzy of the holiday season, but in reality we all know that crazy-busy mindset lingers the year through. A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland reminds us to slow down and linger over meals around the table. The high-quality, homegrown, artesian food, as celebrated in this book need to be slowly savored and enjoyed, resulting in satisfaction beyond a full belly.