Iron Range Eatery chef claims 'Minced' crown: Cooking competition raises funds for mobile food market
LITTLE FALLS—Combining yucca root, papaya and prickly pear into a judge-pleasing entree would be difficult in any instance, but try doing it in 30 minutes.
Hundreds watched and cheered as three chefs battled it out to win praises from judges Tuesday, May 15, in a competition styled after the Food Network's "Chopped" at Sprout in Little Falls. Sprout's "Minced" pitted Fred Stumbo of Sage on Laurel in Brainerd, Paul Ruszat of St. Cloud Hospital and CentraCare Health and Scotty Stocco of Iron Range Eatery in Crosby against one another in three rounds of frenzied dish preparation.
Testing the skills of the chefs further was the required inclusion of three mystery ingredients into the timed appetizer, entree and dessert rounds—ingredients sourced from Mi Pueblito Market and Restaurant in Long Prairie as part of the event's celebration of Latin cuisine. In the end, Stocco came out on top in the final dessert round with his winning combination of dragon fruit custard and purple hominy brittle topped with toasted coconut and pork crackling.
Following declaration of his victory, Stocco said his heart was pounding and he couldn't believe it.
"It's an awesome victory for someone, I mean, I've been cooking for only 10 years, and for me to really bring what I think is my best to something like this and walk away with an award, I think is incredible," Stocco said. "The other chefs I went up against were very talented. We all cooked our hearts out. It was just an incredible experience overall."
But Tuesday's competition accomplished more than crowning a Minced champion. Every dollar from the event's admission fee and a raffle encouraging viewers to vote for their favorite chef (also won by Stocco) will support Sprout's mobile market project. The project is six years in the making, Sprout founder Arlene Jones told the crowd, and will seek to increase access to fresh, local foods by taking them on the road.
"I cannot tell you how long this idea has been in our heads and how important is to building our local food economy for our local growers," Jones said, "but also how important it is to provide access to fresh locally grown foods for those who otherwise would not have access."
Jones said the mobile market will travel to senior citizen centers, day care centers and areas where residents have limited access to a grocery store. Referred to as a food desert, areas in which no stores carry fresh foods are prevalent in the five-county region, Jones said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service reports most measures of food deserts include indicators of access to sources of healthy food measured by distances to stores selling them; family income or vehicle availability; neighborhood income; and availability of public transportation. The service developed a map of the United States showing which census tracts are challenged by low income and low access. Data collected in 2015 shows a number of those tracts lie within the borders of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Wadena and Todd counties—particularly Todd, nearly all of which is considered a food desert by federal measures.
Although the truck, two years of labor and inventory are covered by grant funding, the crowdfunding effort kicked off by the Minced cooking competition will support the addition of a trailer, which Sprout and Region Five Development Commission leaders hope will serve as a "teaching machine." Jones said she envisions the mobile market as not only providing access to fresh, local foods, but also teaching consumers cooking skills and nutrition. Profits from the mobile market will go to the area's six food cooperatives to support memberships for low-income community members.
"The No. 1 reason we're doing this is for healthy outcomes for people who live in our region," Jones said. "No. 2 is to support our small family farms."
The Sprout organization is a purveyor of a multi-pronged approach to these goals: offering a regular grower's market at its Little Falls facility, a community-supported agriculture endeavor, cooking classes and access to professional-grade kitchens for product development. It also serves as a distribution hub for the produce of dozens of local farms to schools, hospitals, restaurants and more.
The organization's most recent foray into community-building was spurred in part by a $440,000 grant awarded Region Five in December 2016 from ArtPlace America. The grant supports engagement efforts bringing together art, culture and food—including a variety of market events combining the traditional foods and music of immigrant communities represented in Region Five and Tuesday's Minced event.
'Minced'—The finer version of 'Chopped'
In next week's "Puttin' on The Mitts" food column, watch for recipes incorporating mystery ingredients used by chef's in Sprout's "Minced" competition. The column will appear in the Dispatch's Entertainment section Thursday, May 24.
By Maria Surna Manka, Published in IQ Magazine
Arlene Jones and her family own a farm near Brainerd and are passionate about expanding economic opportunities for farmers in the region. In her years partnering with the University of Minnesota Extension Service and the nonprofit Renewing the Countryside, she has helped other growers find opportunities to sell their products throughout Central Minnesota.
At the same time, the Region Five Development Commission was working with local organizations who wished to buy locally sourced food from area growers.
When Jones and her growers and Region Five and its buyers discovered each other, their shared passion and creativity led to big ideas. “We were like a local foods roadshow,” Jones explained. As they spent time together in the community talking about the aggregation and distribution of local food, the groups started working on the idea of a food hub, which connects food producers with institutional buyers—including restaurants, hospitals, and schools—and end consumers.
The happy result of that brainstorming is Sprout, a Little Falls-based nonprofit that promotes health, economic development and self-reliance by facilitating the availability of locally produced food, products and art.
We spoke with Jones, who is now Sprout’s general manager, and facilities utilization director Natalie Keane about what’s budding at this dynamic organization.
Power of Three--Sprout’s work is focused on three main areas: The Growers & Makers Marketplace, the Food Hub and the Kitchen.
Gatherings--Six times a year, about 40 growers and makers gather to sell their products at Sprout’s 7,500 square foot marketplace in Little Falls. “Each market is completely different,” said Keane. “You’ll see different items at each one because we make sure there’s a diversity of products.”
Leveraging Support--The Initiative Foundation has partnered with Sprout since its inception by supporting a feasibility study of local foods in the region and then helping to match and leverage funds to launch Sprout. The Foundation has also provided numerous AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers along with USDA funding.
Fresh Direct--As a Food Hub, Sprout connects local growers with local buyers. It also rents its licensed processing facilities to support growers who are building their businesses and working with larger buyers.
They’ve Got Goods--More than just veggies and jams, the Marketplace hosts artisan bread makers, chaga (a fungus that grows on birch trees in cold climates) vendors, and even a young jewelry artist who donates half her proceeds to nonprofits. While Sprout encourages new and diverse growers and makers to apply for a booth, the waiting list is growing.
By Brainerd Dispatch on Apr 25, 2018 at 1:00 p.m.
LITTLE FALLS—A culinary cook-off in May will pit three central Minnesota chefs against each other in a kitchen showdown.
Representing their home kitchens in Brainerd, Crosby and St. Cloud, each chef expressed confidence in their skills to accept the culinary challenge of "Minced: The Finer Version of Chopped." The competition will begin 5 p.m. May 15 at Sprout, 609 13th Ave. NE, Door 8, Little Falls.
The cooking competition is one way Sprout seeks to excite central Minnesotans around locally produced food, culinary art and food culture, a news release stated. The public is invited to attend and to learn more about Sprout's food access work, of which proceeds from the event will benefit.
"This unscripted, unsifted challenge will grill three local chefs as they face off in the Sprout Kitchen stadium," stated Minced organizer, Natalie Keane, in the release. "We're not afraid to whip up the food puns for this fun event. We'll need that good humor, and so will the chefs when they find out what we have in store."
Inspired from the popular competitive cooking show, Minced will create cooking challenges by the introduction of unique and bizarre ingredients in a "mystery basket" that must be used in the chefs' dishes. Community members get to watch as the mystery basket foils the plans of contestants as they serve up a dish to impress Minnesota celebrity judges, like cookbook author and chef Beth Dooley ("In Winter's Kitchen: Growing Roots and Breaking Bread in the Northern Heartland," among other titles).
Representing Sage on Laurel in Brainerd will be chef Fred Stumbo. St. Cloud Hospital and Morrison Healthcare's Paul Ruszat will join in the kitchen along with Scotty Stocco from Iron Range Eatery in Crosby.
Chefs will not know what mystery ingredients they will have to work with, but ingredients will represent and celebrate Latin food culture. Ingredients will be sourced from Mi Pueblito Market and Restaurant in Long Prairie. Mi Pueblito owner Gio Garcia has led cooking demonstrations at the Sprout Growers & Makers Marketplace. Mi Pueblito Market carries a variety of ingredients such as chorizo, dried peppers, and tomatillos, all of which could end up in the mystery basket for an appetizer, entree or dessert.
The public is invited to cheer on their favorite chef over wine and appetizers, helping determine the Popular Choice prize by casting a donation vote. Audience members can toss in a dollar to vote for the chef that impresses them the most. Tickets to attend Minced are $10 and can be purchased by visiting https://tinyurl.com/sproutminced or https://tinyurl.com/mincedfacebook.
Dollars raised during Minced will go toward the launch of the Sprout Mobile Market, which will seek to close the missing meal gap in rural Minnesota by putting fresh local foods en route to designated food deserts. Attendees will learn more about this work and the upcoming social crowdfunding campaign for the mobile market at the cooking competition.
Sarah Winkelmann, Lakeland Public Television
Tonight, class was full of vegetables.
“Fresh herbs, radishes and a lot of those summer squashes,” said Tomas Zimmerman, chef and owner at A.T. The Black and White in Little Falls.
One of the things Chef Tomas talked about in his class tonight was kitchen safety and that when you’re cutting herbs, make sure to tuck back your fingers before chopping.
But after safety, tonight’s biggest lesson was about the efficient use of local produce.
“It’s a good way to connect the farmers with the community,” Chef Tomas said. “Shopping local is a big thing, and getting local produce to help those farmers out is a really good asset to the community.”
Chef Tomas was full of ideas to incorporate plants like bok choy into your dinner.
“Showing us different flavor profiles – so if you don’t like it in this variation, you can try it in something new – helps us further expand our abilities and skills in the kitchen to really use the local product that we can grow here in Minnesota,” said Sprout employee Natalie Keane.
And those ideas can also help not letting any produce go to waste.
“The biggest culprit of food waste is actually us as individuals in our own kitchens,” Keane said.
But in tonight’s kitchen, it was all about bringing together the community.
“It really showcases just how special it is to have culinary experts like Chef Tomas, how special it is to have a rich agricultural region and to showcase our farmers in a light where they are the folks that are actually feeding us in this region,” Keane said.
It was a time for all farmers, consumers and chefs to come together.
“I want to support local farmers, and personally, I am a vegetarian, so I like to see where my food comes from and where it is grown,” said attendee Kimberly Augstin.
Everyone in attendance had their own reason to pick up some new skills.
“I belong to a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] and I also did last summer and I really, really enjoyed it, but sometimes there was too much food and I wanted to figure out what to do with it all,” said attendee Candice Koopmeiners.
So no matter how much fresh produce you get, there is always a fresh way to cook it.
“I don’t know everything, I never will, but that’s one thing I like about this industry is you are always getting new products and new ways to do stuff, new techniques,” Chef Tomas said.
Catch the full story at LPTV.org
Alyssa Zaczek, email@example.com
Published 8:00 a.m. CT April 2, 2018, St. Cloud Times
LITTLE FALLS — Sprout Growers and Makers Marketplace wants to create a legion of locavores. And no, that's not a type of dinosaur. A locavore is a person whose diet primarily consists of locally grown, raised or produced food. But to eat local, you first must learn how to cook local. At least, that's the idea behind Sprout's locally focused cooking classes, which put interested folks of all skill levels in the Sprout kitchen with a Central Minnesota chef to learn how to utilize fresh, local food.
"The cooking classes are a great way of breeding a vibrant food culture in our region, because they're really hands on. It's fun, it's entertainment, it's social," said Natalie Keane, facility utilization director at Sprout, which celebrated its two-year anniversary April 1.
The 5013c non-profit, which also includes a food hub for aggregating and delivering locally grown produce to large-scale consumers like hospitals and schools as well as individuals, is focused on food culture. Read More...
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