By Jonathon Wipfli
As a chef in Minnesota, I try to make the most of the short growing season we have by using what’s in season and what I can hunt and gather from our landscape (with the exception of seafood, which I will touch on later). What seems to be a trendy, local food movement is how I’ve approached food my entire life, so it only makes sense that I approach food in the same way with The Minnesota Spoon and large-scale events such as weddings or holiday parties. It’s a passion of mine and where my expertise lies. Using high-quality, seasonal food leads to diversity in menu creation, clean-tasting flavors, and provides a direct connection to what we eat. It also lets me use very simple techniques to let the quality of the ingredients shine through. I’ll walk you through examples and tips for your own menu, whether you make it yourself for your own intimate affair or you hire a caterer or restaurant. It will give you the best of what’s available in the spring and summer months.
With The Minnesota Spoon I approach catering a little differently for large events. We do our best to not have any food held warm, but, rather, cook food in small batches to order. We strive for the freshest seafood possible, using a company located in New York called Sea2Table. They connect us directly to docks that provide us with daily catches and overnight-ship the seafood to us. It’s a great way to ensure the best seafood possible in the middle of the country. We are also lucky enough in Minneapolis to have some great access to farms and farmers markets which let us get some incredible ingredients.
Typically we run large events one of two ways. The first way is a little less formal and allows for a free-flowing meal by breaking the meal down into stations. There are multiple stations that people can visit and try different foods, there is no specific timeline for dinner and there is no formal sit-down. The foods are prepared in small batches by the chef or chefs running that station and served throughout the night. People can mill about and socialize with each other and the chefs without any pressure to have a sit-down meal.
The second way is a little more traditional where we break the meal down into courses and have a sit-down dinner. This generally begins with some passed appetizers, such as a couple of toasts, and a cocktail before the ceremony. After the ceremony, more cocktails and dinner follows. I’ll give a few examples of seasonal menu possibilities for each course.
Generally, each meal is split into three courses. You can have a passed appetizer as people mill around with drinks or save all the food for the dinner portion. Guests often like to nosh on something while the movement happens between ceremony and reception site and I find that seasonal crudités and toasts with oysters can fill that gap well, particularly with how fun it is to slurp oysters with family and friends. But for the second and third courses, we’re aiming for more of the sit-down eatables.
May and June is when things really start to get good in Minnesota. Asparagus, morels, baby kale, beans, summer squash, and spring herbs start to appear. Everything is incredibly fresh and green-tasting after getting out of the winter months. It’s a perfect time for simple, lighter fare that people can really dig into. It’s a great opportunity to cook some seafood and utilize a local rabbit farm, Singerhouse Farm in Menominee, Wisconsin.
For this issue I made three different courses. The first, of course, is an oyster course. Oysters are in my top three all-time favorite foods and I source oysters using Sea2Table which allows me access to truly fresh oysters and it’s a perfect opportunity for a delicious first course. For the second course, a rabbit terrine with pickles preserved from winter and dijon mustard sounds like good fare, and for the entrée a grilled buffalo with a light salad of asparagus, peas, and radish in a champagne vinaigrette fits in well.
Other in-season menu options may include:
First course (passed)
• Braised duck meatballs, rhubarb jam
• Stewed morel mushrooms, and pickled ramps on toast
• Grilled asparagus, sauce gribiche, pancetti
• Braised cow tongue, pea puree, and watercress
• Chicken legs braised with slow-cooked leeks, saffron and garlic with potato puree
• Whole-roasted ribeye, warm spinach, and sauce chimichurri
Moving into July, lettuces, broccoli, melons, peas, peppers, and zucchini are among some of the vegetable options. Finding some ultra-fresh greens at the farmers market and serving them with a simple vinaigrette and shaving some local cheese over them is a perfect first course, but there are other options too. Here are a few of them.
First course (passed)
• Foie gras butter and raspberry jam brioche sandwiches
• Grilled oyster mushroom skewers, herb vinaigrette
• Mixed lettuces, champagne vinaigrette, fine herbs, shaved parmesan
• Chilled scallop mousseline, salad of peas, radish and grilled summer squash, crème fraiche, and bacon
• Grilled chicken paillard, anchovy and garlic marinated cucumbers, grain salad
• Whole-roasted bone-in pork loin, grilled broccoli, garlic butter
Finally we make it into the dusk of summer where the temperatures begin to drop, the days start to shorten, and the heart and soul of Midwest cooking comes back. Corn and tomatoes make their way onto our plates and into our hearts, just as they should. There is plenty of food growing at this time of year, but for me it doesn’t get any better than those two. For whatever reason, the beginning of fall also makes me think of family-style eating, which translates well for weddings. I think it’s the sense that we all know we’re going to have to hunker down and use each other as crutches to make it through the next six months until we see the first ramps again.
First course (passed)
• Cup of corn, Mexican-style
• Grilled shrimp skewers, pumpkin butter, chives
• Cherry tomatoes, anchovy aioli, baby basil, torn bread
• Baked root vegetable salad, gremolata, cured foie gras, pistachios
• Whole grilled salmon, sauce romanesco, roasted Brussels sprouts, boiled and seared potatoes served family-style
• Whole grilled baby pig, (deboned and stuffed with herbs) sweet corn succotash, lemon butter served family-style
Please visit my Instagram or Facebook page @TheMinnesotaSpoon for food inspiration, and visit TheMinnesotaSpoon.com for contact information.