by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
We were recently invited to attend a Bar Mitzvah of good friend’s grandson in Minneapolis. The invitation listed the host hotel as the new J. W. Marriott Hotel connected to Mall of America. It was our first visit to the Mall, and I definitely would rate it as a 10.
First some facts about the Mall. Close to the Minneapolis airport it is connected by their “light rail” system. Open since 1992, Mall of America, located 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, stands at 5.6 million square feet and is the largest mall in the country. It’s big enough to fit seven Yankee Stadiums, and the distance to walk around it once is more than a mile. Four out of 10 shoppers here are tourists, and 40 million people visit a year. Most of the 500 plus retailers, spread out among four levels, are familiar ones: Macy’s, Nordstrom and Sears are the three big department stores. Other brands include Puma, Williams-Sonoma, Chico’s, Lacoste, J. Crew and the ever-popular mall staple Yankee Candle. A major incentive for shopping in Minneapolis is that there is no sales tax on clothing.
With more than 50 restaurants to pick from, shoppers are spoiled for choice when it comes to refueling. Fast casual options include the pizza chain Sbarro, the Chinese-food chain Panda Express and the pita sandwich brand Pita Pit. For a proper — albeit not fancy — meal go for Japanese food at Benihana, seafood at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. or ribs and steaks at Tony Roma’s. There are two food courts, with the new one adding a Shake Shack this summer. Here’s the full dining directory- https://www.mallofamerica.com/dining/dining-guide with everything from American Girl Bistro to Rainforest Café.
We lunched at Piada. — Piada, a fast-casual Italian street food concept. If you visit, look for made-to-order pasta bowls and salads. And new for me, piada — hand-rolled wraps baked on a stone grill with varieties such as calamari and steak. Piada is a chain and all are run by a chef rather than a manager. Their philosophy is “good food, made fast, made fresh, every time.”
For dinner one night we tried the family friendly sit down casual restaurant Crave. Some in our party had sushi but there were plenty of entrees to satisfy other appetites including grilled steaks and seafood. They are famous for their Mexican roll – tuna based with just a hint of spice – and a few pieces of sockeye salmon nigari.
The J.W. Marriott’s main restaurant, “Cedar+Stone, Urban Table” is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu offers refined, crafted dishes inspired by Minnesota’s natural roots and local culture.
Marriott wisely tapped an 18-year company vet to for executive chef. He’s Chef Everton Clarke, and he has cooked in Marriott properties ranging from San Francisco to Dubai before landing in Minnesota. We sat down with Chef Everton and were indeed impressed with his culinary background and philosophy. Chef Everton was born and raised on a farm in Jamaica that produced a variety of proteins, root vegetables, and fruit, and became accustomed to enjoying food at its very best. In addition he told us there were lots of pigs and goats. He watched his mother utilize all of these ingredients on a daily basis in the meals she prepared, and he was not shy to get in there and get his hands in whatever she was cooking. This clearly had an impact on his choice of a career, for when the time came, Chef Everton decided to go to culinary school and received a Bachelor of Science in Food Service Management from Johnson and Wales University. Since then, he has spent more than 15 years as a chef with Marriott Hotels & Resorts. He attempts to access the best regional ingredients he can find. The menu listed 12 area farms that he sources from. Prior to coming to Minneapolis he was in the Mid-East and he told us that when the thermometer plunged into subzero territory last winter he questioned for a brief moment “what-did-I-sign-up-for?” As we saw him at the hotel morning and night we knew that he’s not spending a lot of time outdoors and most days are a 14-hour workday.
Chef Everton is father to two girls and they prefer to eat rather than cook right now. He does not believe in eating processed foods and cooks at least three to four times a week at home for his family. His preferences? Meats that are closer to the bone like braised oxtail, pot roast, short ribs, liver, tongue — things he can slow cook with potatoes and other root vegetables. And yes, his kids eat it all.
For lunch we tried the salads and were not disappointed. Carol’s had a colorful medley of roasted beets complemented by tangy, hazelnut-crusted goat cheese, with wrinkled kale paired with tart apples and crunchy Marconi almonds and splashed with a refreshing lemon vinaigrette.
There are several vegetable-forward snacks: crisp-edged Brussels sprouts; heirloom carrots roasted to candy-like sweetness, and broccolini, its woodiness tempered over a smoky grill and accented by chunks of sweet roasted butternut squash.
Springfield is famous for its culinary delight the horseshoe. Minneapolis has cheese curds. Cheese curds in cuisine, or cooking, are the solid parts of soured milk either eaten alone or used in preparing other dishes. I discovered there are cheese curd festivals and restaurants have rankings based on their cheese curds. In Minnesota, fried cheese curds are a local delicacy. Deep-fried cheese curds are found at carnivals and fairs (not sure if on a stick or not), and often local non-chain fast-food restaurants, regular restaurants, and bars, as well as a few chain restaurants of local origin, including Culver’s. Deep-fried cheese curds are covered with a batter, similar to one used for onion rings, or are breaded and placed in a deep fryer, they are sometimes served with a side of ketchup or ranch dressing. Even Chef Everton includes Spicy Cheese Curds accompanied with blue cheese yogurt sauce on his appetizer selections.
Chef Everton provided me the following recipe for his award winning Kabocha Squash Soup. He said that you can substitute Pumpkin or Acorn Squash for the Kabocha Squash. Remember Chef cooks a larger quantity than you probably would at home. The recipe below will make about 1.5 gallons depending how thick you like your soup. He serves an 8 ounce portion in the restaurant. He advised that you can adjust the viscosity with some chicken or vegetable stock.
Kabocha Squash soup
*2 Pounds Kabocha Squash or Pumpkin or Acorn Squash
*1 each Non-Stick cooking spray
*2 tablespoon Butter
*3 cups leeks chopped
*¾ cup onion chopped
*¾ teaspoon ginger fresh grated
*1/8 teaspoon black pepper
*3 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
*1 Inch lemongrass piece, fresh
*2 ½ cups vegetable stock or chicken or beef
*1 ½ cups water
*¼ cup brown sugar packed
*½ cup coconut milk lite
*1 ½ teaspoons lime rind grated scallions, spring or green
*2 tablespoons onions diagonally cut
*1 tablespoon cilantro freshly chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)
Cut squash in half lengthwise. Discard seeds. Place squash cut side down on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until tender. Cool, scoop out pulp and discard skins.
Melt the butter in a large heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the leek, onion, ginger, pepper, garlic and lemongrass. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the squash pulp, broth, water, sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes. Place once half of the mixture into a food processor and process until smooth. Strain mixture through a sieve into a bowl. Discard the solids and repeat with the remaining mixture. Return the strained squash mixture to the pot and stir in the coconut milk and lime rind. Cook over medium heat until heated through.