“The love you put into the food you cook really does go into your children,” says Kurt Michael Friese, co-owner and “chef emeritus” of Iowa City’s acclaimed Devotay restaurant. Friese is the founder of the first Iowa Slow Food convivium, part of Slow Food USA, a growing movement that promotes eating local foods that are sustainably farmed and lovingly prepared.
A guest last night on WSUI‘s Live from Prairie Lights radio show in Iowa City, Friese spoke with host Julie Englander about his recent book, Slow Food in the Heartland: A Cook’s Journey. The book is a rich collection of essays about “people who were living the ideals of a slower way of life.” Divided into four sections, “Farmers,” “Artisans,” “Restaurants and Markets,” and “Community and Outreach,” it includes Friese’s observations from travels in 13 states, “from Oklahoma to Ohio to North Dakota and all states in between.”
Published by Ice Cube Press, Slow Food in the Heartland includes black-and-white photographs taken by Friese, who majored in photography at Coe College. In the warm tones of the cover shot, the photographer draws the viewer into what must be a delicious feast at a long table glowing from the light of the afternoon sun. The diners’ rapt attention to their plates is a stomach-rumbling invitation. Even a “non-foodie” like me feels the urge to savor a meal that has been prepared with the kind of passion Friese expresses when he speaks about food.
The content is no less inviting. Friese read aloud selections about the Scattergood Friends School in West Branch, Iowa, where “students take an active role in the production of their own food, from plant to plate,” and L’Etoile restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin, where Chef Tory Miller follows the principles of founder Odessa Piper, who insisted on sourcing “everything locally and organically whenever feasible.”
In other chapters, readers will learn about such things as the origin of the Delicious apple (IA), a stubborn mid-row “volunteer” that wouldn’t submit to defeat; the founding of the Seed Savers Exchange (IA), which safely stores samples of “heirloom seeds… that have been passed down through generations, like heirloom jewelry”; the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, which helps “people across the state of Oklahoma by connecting farmers with consumers, all of whom care about the land and their food.” The book contains 34 such stories, each with a generous dash of Friese’s insights about how we in the U.S. have veered so far from the healthy principles of sustainable food production and how we can get back to them.
Friese also introduces us to a variety of unique restaurants, including the Corn Exchange (SD), Jasper’s Restaurant (MO), and Hotel Donaldson (ND), inspiring plans for road trips ahead. Each essay is followed by a recipe that relates to it. Most are from the restaurants or chefs profiled in the book. The rest are from Friese’s own culinary delights, which are served with love to patrons at Devotay. (I’ve sampled their fare frequently, all with deliciously satisfying results.) This is not, as Friese says, “a cookbook.” But the recipes contained within it may well become family favorites, from Sticky Toffee Pudding to Pumpkin Soup to Homemade Ricotta Cheese.
Friese, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, writes, “When I shake the hand that raised the food, I know the farmer cares about the food and the land. When I can still feel the field heat radiating from the tomato as I slice into it on a hot August afternoon, then I know I have something truly special to share with my guests.”
For those who say they don’t have time to prepare a sumptuous, slow meal, Friese urges, “Take a breath. Stop and smell the bacon. Take stock of what is truly important in your life, and cull a few of the things that don’t make the list.” He describes a “beautiful connection” between preparing a meal and loving one’s family. But it’s a matter of priorities, he says, “If you are unable to find the joy, don’t do it.”