James Beard Best Chef: Midwest Award winner Paul Berglund, chef at The Bachelor Farmer. Photo by Todd Buchanan.
Paul Berglund is a modest guy, but his James Beard Award as Best Chef: Midwest elevates him into the top tier of Twin Cities culinary icons. Only four locals have won this award: Tim McKee (won while at La Belle Vie), Alex Roberts (Restaurant Alma), Isaac Becker (112 Eatery, Bar La Grassa, Burch Steak), and now Paul.
“It’s an acknowledgement from other people that are really passionate about food, that what we’re doing at The Bachelor Farmer is worthwhile,” Berglund told me in an interview a couple days after he won.
So why doesn’t Paul get more acclaim right here at home? Don’t get me wrong, the dining room is packed almost every night. So diners know that good things are happening there. But when I told a foodie friend that the best meal I had in the Twin Cities in 2015 was at TBF, she was shocked: “He makes toast. What’s the big deal?”
When TBF opened in 2011, it positioned itself as being an expression of New Nordic cuisine. There were Swedish meatballs, gravlax, and lefse on the menu. But over the years, the menu has evolved as Berglund has matured as a chef.
“The more time I spent in the kitchen of The Bachelor Farmer, the more I found inspiration not from our travels to Scandinavia or from cookbooks, but from our region. From meeting farmers, from visiting farms, from tasting what I think is probably the best pork in the country from our region. The best butter I’ve ever tasted comes from our region,” he said.
Just like Tim McKee, Alex Roberts, and Issac Becker have elevated and changed the food scene in our community—I believe TBF is doing the same thing. Co-owner Eric Dayton’s push to talk about Minnesota as “The North” instead of the blanket term “Midwest” also applies to the food inside TBF.
I believe TBF is the next step in a line of great efforts by restaurants, such as James Beard finalist Lenny Russo’s Heartland, to define a cuisine for the Upper Midwest.
“It made much more sense to think of our restaurant as a Minnesotan restaurant. We talk a lot here about ‘The North’ and the Northern sensibility,” said Berglund. What is Minnesota cuisine? We know what Southern food feels like, we know that the Northeast has great seafood and lobster, and California has fresh, bright flavors. Arizona and the Southwest have a cuisine. No one really knows what the food of the North is.
“We don’t either!” laughed Berglund.
Some clues are in the menu that Paul has right now. He’s serving the first Minnesota asparagus that came in this week with chestnuts, burnt butter, and pickled red onion. Yes, there are toasts, but the fresh cow’s milk cheese/bacon-onion jam with honey toast feels very Minnesotan to me, and so does the housemade duck liver pâté with preserved vegetables and mustard.
I love the parsnips cooked under a brick with braised chickpeas, and toasted hazelnuts. The fish is always perfectly prepared at TBF, the roasted halibut with braised celery root and barley is on the menu right now.
“The identity is an evolving identity. We’re pushing to get better and better. The identity of our restaurant is not as clear cut as a restaurant in another region, because we’re a cuisine in the making,” he said.
The menu right now has pasta (fettuccini with sautéed ramps and pancetta). There’s nothing Nordic about pasta—at first blush it doesn’t match the “brand” of TBF, but Berglund explains that it’s in his roots. “My whole formative experience cooking was in an Italian restaurant, pasta is my favorite thing to cook, my favorite thing to eat, it’s my favorite,” he said.
I’m a huge fan of a shaved cabbage salad with cheddar vinaigrette and toasted bread and almonds. It’s very simple, doesn’t take a lot of technique to create, but man I could eat that every day.
“That’s one of the way our food is evolving, away from fuss, and hoping to get at the core of what is satisfying and right about food,” he said.
Yes, you’ll find some of these foods at other restaurants in the Twin Cities – but the kitchen at TBF has done the work to express these flavors in special ways. The service and experience at TBF has always been exceptional, thanks to managing director Nathan Rostance and general manager Erin Rolek’s team.
If you haven’t been to The Bachelor Farmer lately, you should really go back. It’s exciting to see Paul Berglund get the recognition from the James Beard voters. It’s even more exciting to watch a restaurant continue to define the cuisine that you’ll only be able to experience right here at home.
The Bachelor Farmer
50 N. Second Ave., Minneapolis