Reporting Sara Pelissero
The Twin Cities are blessed when it comes to talent in the kitchen. The culinary minds at the helm of our favorite restaurants receive critical acclaim and top honors from food enthusiasts and reviewers, alike. But who are the people behind the chef’s coat? Our Chef’s Profile aims to find out.
Last week’s Part 1 of our profile of Doug Flicker focused on his humble beginnings and the journey that led him to this point in his career — running a restaurant that’s been given a perfect score by a number of critics.
Though, as he explained, with great praise and trust comes equal pressure and responsibility. Still, Flicker said it’s a fantastic ride to be on, and more than enough inspiration to continue challenging himself in the kitchen.
This week, we wanted to focus on the man behind the chef’s jacket.
When you’re at home, what do you like to cook for yourself or for friends and family?
A lot of one-pot meals. I try to get, at least on one of my days off, I try to eat both meals out. Just because, as a reward and also to see what’s going on around town or just to put myself on the other side of the fence, from the kitchen. So, there’s a big difference between what I do professionally and what I do personally — what I do here versus what I eat at home. Two totally different things.
By the time I get home, I want something simple that I don’t have to think about and I don’t want to spend another hour putting something together and eating a tiny, little portion. You know, Heggies frozen pizzas are fantastic. Best frozen pizzas ever. Sometimes it’s leftovers. The perception that I would go home and try to recreate what I do here … It’s just a lot of eggs, normal stuff.
You mentioned dining out. Where do you like to go? Where are your favorite restaurants?
Right now I’m going through a Reuben phase, so Cecil’s Deli is a fantastic place, Tilia, Matt’s Bar for a Jucy Lucy, The Nook for a Juicy Lucy, you know, a lot of things like that. Pho, it always kind of goes in little streaks where you become obsessed about one food style and then I hit that a lot and then switch it with the seasons.
Coming from your perspective, what are your thoughts on the Twin Cities food scene?
I think it’s really healthy right now. I think it’s healthier than it has been in a very long time. As annoyed as I get sometimes with food trucks, I think it’s a fantastic sign. I think the restaurants that are open late at night, feeding people late at night is another good sign of the health of the city. You know, we’ve got, I think, a really nice influx of people that move here to cook and not just because a spouse moved here or a girlfriend worked here. The quality of resumes coming through town is really, really nice. Again, people are so excited about food now, and supporting restaurants and experiencing restaurants, that it really is a golden age for the cities.
What would you say is your biggest guilty pleasure food?
I would have to say biggest guilty pleasure would have to be Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. It’s one of those things that my mom fed me as a kid that I grew up with. Like, Heggies Pizzas, I mean, it’s a quality frozen pizza so I can’t feel guilty about it. Slim Jims and you know, Velveeta – Velveeta is a perfect cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich, so I can’t feel guilty about it. If the word guilty has to come in, then yeah, the macaroni and cheese.
Is there an ingredient that you would prefer never to work with?
I would say balsamic vinegar. Because I think at this point and time, it’s crept so far into mainstream that when people go out, they assume every restaurant has it. So I just kind of push back against that. It’s one of those things that as a pure product, quality balsamic is fantastic. But the onslaught of cheap imitations that call themselves balsamic are so horrible. And yeah, it’s just that assumption that every restaurant would have it.
On the flip side, is there an ingredient you find yourself constantly drawn to?
I would say any sort of pork fat or pork product. Lardos, jowls, bellies. You know, we play that game of what could you live without — if you had to live without either flour or pork, what would it be? Or this or that? Sugar or salt? And I think pork products, I could give up beef, I could give up any of those, but the pork product is so versatile that I think I would have a hard time either not living with it or cooking without it. Everything just gets a little better with a little pork fat in there.
When you’re out of both kitchens, what’s your favorite pastime?
You know, I really like the dog park with my dog. It’s a great place to think, especially Minnehaha, with the falls and it’s so large. You know, movies, eating out in restaurants, stuff like that. I’m pretty mainstream.
If you had to choose a “Last Meal,” you’re on your death bed, what would it be?
It would be some sort of dumpling. It would probably be some sort of dim sum if I had to. If I had to experience one last meal, it would be around a Lazy Susan with carts coming by, just dropping dumplings and anything like that, in front of me that I could just cover with soy sauce and eat.
I don’t know, it’s so much like a pasta, a stuffed pasta. There’s just something about meat inside a dough that really hits home. So yeah, I think the dim sum-ish style, it’s such an onslaught of food that comes at you at one time, I love it.
You said “Top Chef” helped put chefs in the spotlight. Are there other cooking shows that you watch? Any that you would ever consider competing on?
You know, I’ve done a couple of the “Top Chef/Chopped”-style competitions and I really enjoyed doing them. I really enjoy the kind of grabbing the basket and figuring out from that, what you can do. I think that fits my cooking style really well. The sense of creativity and trying to create things. So yeah, any sort of competition like that, I’m definitely down for.
Is there a food trend that you’re sick of — or that you’d like to see go away?
I think there’s a, it’s not necessarily a food trend, but it’s food-related, where I think people tend to over-react to things they read or hear on the news and I think they tend to demonize things. So right now I think people demonize flour and gluten. I’ve talked to so many people who claim to be gluten intolerant and yet, I mean, no one’s ever told them that.
I think it’s the same thing with farm fish or factory this or factory that. I think it’s anytime that people don’t do their research or read up on what’s true — and then come in. Another food trend would be saying they’re allergic to something when they don’t like it. “Well, I’m allergic to this,” but then it’s like, “well, it’s in this, this and this” and then they’re like, “well, I can have a little bit.” Or the vegans that will have a little bit of ice cream at the end of a meal or a bite of this or that. That’s the most annoying food trend. The desire or need to label yourself or to stand in a certain camp, be it– I’m a vegetarian, I’m a pescatarian, I’m a vegan that does this or that. “I’m a vegan that eats dairy products.” Well, then you’re not a vegan.
Finally, when you look back on your career, what do you hope to be known for, in the culinary world?
I want to be known for the company I’ve kept — I mean, obviously I want to be known for being a good cook and having a restaurants where people have memories from, be it anniversaries, or I met there. You know, the people that I’ve worked with or have had the pleasure of working with and to watch them go out. I mean, part of me just wants to be forgotten as soon as I’m gone, you know what I mean?
Doug Flicker is chef and owner of Piccolo in Minneapolis. For more information about his restaurant, click here.