At Chef Camp, between campfire cooking classes and summer camp activities, everyone sits down to chef-prepared meals. This year, Nettie Colón will be the Camp Cook serving up those meals. Her creativity, farm-to-table focus, and willingness to dig a fire pit just about anywhere are guaranteed to make the food unforgettable.
She’ll be combining many different styles of underground cooking — from the Andean pachamanca, a layered meal cooked in a pit for many hours, to the Sardinian carraxu, where whole animals are wrapped in herbs and slowly cooked in a fire. She will incorporate ingredients and flavors that she has picked up from her many travels.
Born in New York City and raised in Puerto Rico, Nettie spent her formative years learning traditional Puerto Rican cooking methods with her grandmother and her friends. Nettie was chef de cuisine for over a decade at Luciaʼs Restaurant & Wine Bar in Uptown, Minneapolis. For seven years Nettie taught Mayan cuisine classes in the Biosphere Reserve of Sian Ka’an in Tulum on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. She currently runs creative pop-up events through her company Red Hen Gastrolab.
Nettie taught three amazing classes at last year’s Chef Camp and did a surprise octopus demonstration. Get the recipe for her Charred Octopus with Grilled Lemon Coriander Sauce here.
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The chef-owner of three highly regarded restaurants, Landon Schoenefeld is stretched thinner than ever. But he seems happy. And he has good reason to be: At almost six years old, Haute Dish maintains a devoted following downtown (and will soon begin lunch service), and Nighthawks, his take on a classic diner, gathers glowing reviews and clamoring crowds in Kingfield. And now, he has Birdie, an intimate room that creates a constantly evolving tasting menu of a dozen or so dishes for a dozen or so diners at a time. Tickets cost $100 each and include gratuity and tax (beverages are not included); tickets are available via Tempo Tickets and must be purchased in advance.
Schoenefeld is clearly in his element here. He’s having a blast collaborating with his tight crew (Jesse Peine, Brittany St. Claire, and Tlanezi Guzman), each person cooking, prepping, hosting, and serving, with no separation or hierarchy between the front and back of the house. We recently spent the better part of an afternoon at Birdie, eating, taking pictures, and talking with Schoenefeld about everything from meaty beets and Richard Simmons to aged squab and peyote.
HEAVY TABLE: So, how do you see the three restaurants tied together?
LANDON SCHOENEFELD: Haute Dish is what I’d call “meat-centric,” and big, hearty plates of food. And Nighthawks, it’s pretty straightforward; we might use a few luxury ingredients but it’s kind of like my vision of what the perfect version of a particular dish is supposed to be, within the diner mold. Birdie is produce-centric with a simplistic approach to a lot of the dishes. We kind of eschew red meat — we haven’t served any beef or lamb. We’ve had some ham and some pork as elements within dishes. We cook a lot of little birds, which I’d never be able to do at Nighthawks [because of cost] — squab, poussin, things like that — and more fish, more seafood.
HEAVY TABLE: What do you mean by produce-centered?
SCHOENEFELD: It means that we get our inspiration from the vegetables that are in season. This time of year, it’s getting a little more difficult. We had been able to use local produce basically up until now: rutabaga, potatoes, beets — storage crops, things of that nature. I always view March as a dead time, especially in Minnesota, and hopefully next year we’ll do even more preservation and fermenting to make that stuff last. So we think about what vegetables are in season first, and that’s how the menu comes together. It’s the glue.
HEAVY TABLE: Is it a challenge to be vegetable rather than meat-centric?
SCHOENEFELD: Absolutely. I think it’s part of the fun. It’s sort of cool to have the limitations sometimes. Like, we have all this fucking kohlrabi downstairs! We need to ——
HEAVY TABLE: Like getting a CSA box.
SCHOENEFELD: Yeah. Exactly. Though with the CSA box, you just need to come up with something tasty for your family to eat. We feel like we have to elevate that vegetable; we’re really trying to cook special food that people aren’t going to be able to cook at home. Taking a mundane vegetable like rutabaga, and turning that into something cool? That wows people, and that’s sort of our mission.
HEAVY TABLE: Tell me about your team concept, how you work together.
SCHOENEFELD: I really give everyone their own space. Jesse has a lot of experience, great ideas. She’s worked for me at Haute Dish for a long time, so she’s like my ace in the hole. And then Britt, who’s a great cook — she would cook circles all summer long around the guys at Nighthawks. She was an obvious choice to move over. I tell her, “do this course. Do this course.” I help her develop the ideas, mixing the experience of the old with the enthusiasm of the young. And then T [Tlanezi, above], she just constantly amazes me with the stuff she comes up with. She has a sort of irreverence to her approach, where she’ll throw avocados and weird things you wouldn’t expect in a dessert, and it’ll surprise and delight. And that’s sort of what I’m into.
HEAVY TABLE: Does the menu change every week?
SCHOENEFELD: Typically, we change the menu about 50 percent week by week. So if you ate here every two weeks, you’d probably have a completely different menu. We’ve actually saved all of the originals [of the menus], or most of them. We like to do a handwritten menu; it gives a little special touch. Everyone gets one.
Leave a comment on this post, and at the end of the work dayat 3pm, so we can mail these things out promptly (that’s today, Thursday, Feb. 25), we’ll randomly determine 5 winners of pairs of tickets to the Home & Garden Show which runs from Feb. 24-28 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. We’ll email you tonight to get your address info, and get the tickets mailed first thing tomorrow (Friday). UPDATE: Congrats to Beth (11:14am), Maggie (12:29pm), Brian (12:59pm), Rachel (1:31pm), and Robyn (2:56pm)!