This month’s Farm Crush Friday has an extra gigantic place in my heart because it is all about the merging of good, fresh, local farm products and the talented people who cook them. And not only that, it is about a chef I have the utmost respect for and a place I loved so much that I wiggled my way into working there a couple shifts a month. I’m obsessed with this place, its people, the warm atmosphere and the yummy, yummy food!
Chef Jared of Cow & Quince in New Glarus, you are a superstar. For those of you who don’t know Cow & Quince, it’s a small farm-to-table eatery and grocery right in the heart of a small town that is in the heart of Wisconsin’s local food movement. The place is farmer owned and local sourcing is never a problem. More on this spectacular place later. For now, I want to talk about their chef. And his food!!!
Jared Austin is the son-in-law of Cow & Quince owner Lori Stern and he is the (not so) secret weapon of their burgeoning young business. When the place opened, it was expected to be 1 part restaurant, 3 parts small grocery store, but Jared’s food offered something different. It was impressive and attracted a local audience who had been yearning for quality, locally sourced food in this very rural area for some time (present company obviously included). The restaurant sales now make up the vast majority of the business and a kitchen upgrade is next on the agenda.
Jared is incredibly talented, oh-so humble and a tireless perfectionist. A plate does not leave the kitchen unless it’s a stunning masterpiece. Even if he has 42 plates to prepare all at once, like he did at last month’s Wisconsin Farmer’s Union event. Each and every plate will still be flawless. Below I chat with him about his career path, created the menu at Cow & Quince and his love of food.
Jared! You are such a talented chef! Did you go to culinary school?
I did not go to culinary school.
When it was time to figure out what I wanted to go to college for, I talked to some people in the culinary arts program. Some said it was worth it, others said they already knew most of the information that was given. I decided to go for a hotel/restaurant management degree as kind of a plan B for whenever my knees go out on me.
In fact, I have never really had a “mentor” to help guide me along. Most of my jobs, I was just thrown into the fire and forced into learning on my own, which is the hard and fast way of learning things in a kitchen. I worked at the Glarner Stube [in New Glarus] for a good chunk of my life, cooking the same menu the entire time. This definitely taught me repetition, and the importance of consistency. Even though I did not learn crazy new techniques, or adventurous flavor combinations, I did learn fundamentals of cooking & discipline.
After that, I worked in Vail, Colorado for a winter at a resort that had about 40 cooks working on any given day. Anytime you have that many good cooks in one area, you are bound to learn some tricks. We did a lot of high volume catering that taught me how to prep fast at a fine dining level. I also worked with people from all over the world, Nepal, Thailand, Mexico, Montana, Jamaica etc… so each person had their own style and flavor combinations that overtime got embedded into my brain.
After Colorado, I got a job at the Edgewater hotel in Madison serving classic French cuisine. This is one of the jobs that really shaped the way I cook. The menu changed often, we had a lot of specials, and I was responsible for the amuse bouche of the night. An amuse bouche is the first small bite or two of the meal to waken the palate whether it is a mushroom chevre crepe, or a foie gras mousse w/ apricots. It had to be different every day, and there were no limitations to what I could use. Here I learned how to develop depth, how to balance food, and how to extract as much flavor out of something as I can.
But where I have learned the most about food is definitely at home. I cook almost every day at home, and have been doing so since I was 18. I’ve always gone to farmers markets as much as I can, and just play around with things. It’s way easier to focus and think about food in your own quiet home rather than in a loud, fast-paced, smoky kitchen.
When you started at Cow & Quince, were you overwhelmed at the prospect of being the head chef of a brand new restaurant?
Absolutely, I had no idea what to expect. I still have no idea what to expect. It’s definitely a “learn as you go” type job. I’m excited to finally have staff and be the boss that I’ve always wanted as a younger cook. I really like teaching people how to do things, and even more learning from others.
What have been the major challenges of starting a kitchen from scratch?
Where do I start?! What’s really hard for any cook at a new job is trying to get a daily routine down and to try and figure out how much food is needed each week without running out or throwing out any of it.
The biggest challenge early on was, what do people want to eat? We had a lot of people walk in and look at our menu, and then turn around and leave. It was frustrating because a lot of times it seemed like people just weren’t willing to give it a shot, and they walked up the street to have a burger and fries. Over the last several months I feel I have developed a menu that is able to please most types of people, and I’m finally happy with it. It only took 6 months.
In my eyes, your breakfast and lunch menu at Cow & Quince is perfect. A lot of creativity, the right amount of sophistication and a little Wisconsin comfort food all tossed together. It has a great range. But what impresses me the most is the 4 course meals you host once a month. What inspires these menus?
Easy, farmers and the seasons. We have a lot of really talented farmers who are raising and growing exceptional products. So really, it’s kind of easy to determine what I’m cooking. It’s the finishing touches and garnishes that take time to come up with. I also want these dinners to be food that I have never made before. Being the only cook in the kitchen, it’s hard to keep learning every day, so this is a way to push myself to get out of my comfort zone, and make something I have never made before. I try to pick items that are mostly familiar to people while at the same time trying to make it somewhat of an adventure for the average diner, all while keeping the food delicious and beautiful.
That is bold cooking items so adventurous! There’s no way you cook like this all the time! What are you most likely to be caught eating at home?
Actually, I am kind of a food snob at home too. Sarah (my wife) and I don’t buy anything pre-made. We make all of our meals from scratch. We get this really nice ground beef from my uncle and I just love making huge medium-rare cheeseburgers with burnt onions, oven chips, and pickles. Recently, we’ve been eating a lot of tofu tacos. We also really enjoy lentil dishes. In tomato season, we eat BLT’s like it’s the last one of the year. On my days off when Sarah goes to work, I like to have a fried egg sandwich dowsed in Frank’s hot sauce. So I guess it’s kind of all over the place.
Cow & Quince is farmer owned so obviously sourcing locally is a top priority. How does the restaurant handle local sourcing and how complicated is this for you?
Sourcing everything locally has actually been easier than I expected. When we first opened, we had April Yancer (former farmer of Garden to Be which has been sourcing vegetables to restaurants in Madison since before anyone) in our corner, which honestly if she hadn’t been, we would have been screwed. She had tons of relationships already built and we went from there. So we have a core group of farmers that we get most of our primary items from, but as its warming up we are getting a lot more farms that are interested in working with us.
There are definitely challenges for me though, being that I am the one ordering the food and cooking the food. It’s hard to know what the right amount to order is because our business fluctuates so much.
For example, I messed up this spring. I think every farm-to-table chef gets a little frustrated this time of the year when it is clearly warm, but veggies aren’t quite popping out of the ground yet and you are forced to still use carrots and spinach most days. But when the veggies do pop (!!), you feel like you have to buy them all! I learned this the hard way. A few weeks ago one of our farmers said he should be having ramps soon. Me, being super excited for spring vegetables, was like “I will take a 5# case!” I sent the email, and instantly thought to myself, will that be enough? Ramp season is very short, maybe I should get 10#. So I emailed this guy back and said “let’s double that.” The next day my ramps arrived and my eyes lit up. I was giddy with excitement. Then, I opened the box and feelings of dread rushed through my body. There must have been 800 dirt crusted ramps packed into this box!! What the hell am I going to do with this many ramps, and when will I have time to deal with these?!?! That week at work was really busy for me. We had one of our 4-course dinners coming up. All of my free time at work is used prepping for those. I had no other choice but to work on these ramps on my day off. All day long. 10 hours of cleaning, prepping and pickling ramps. On the bright side, I will still have pickled ramps in August!
Cow & Quince just opened in September so you’ve never cooked here in the middle of Wisconsin’s seasonal bounty! What are you most excited to cook this summer?
I’m really excited for asparagus and morels. It’s easily my favorite combination. My dad hates morels but he loves foraging them. So who is best fit to take them off his hands?!
I’m also really excited for all different types of beans. And I love giving people super thick slices of juicy tomatoes in the middle of summer. I love my winter vegetables, but I’m ready to see some green in my coolers!
This recipe is largely inspired by watching Jared cook for the last couple of months. His enthusiasm over every single vegetable as it slowly comes into season during this (excessively long and drawn out) spring has been so beautiful to watch, and it has encouraged me to be a better home chef. I’m a veggie farmer and I eat a lot of vegetables for the 20-25 weeks of the year that I grow them, but the rest of the year my use of local ingredients leaves much to be desired.
Until last Saturday, when Jared fed them to us at Cow & Quince, I had never tasted a ramp (an early spring delicacy in Wisconsin). I had definitely never gotten excited over them. Or a turnip. Or a sunchoke. But these are the things I bought at the local food co-op on Thursday night. Inspired by Jared, I only purchased the produce that said it was grown in Wisconsin, because even though my season has not begun to yield any goods, the local season has started. If the only things available right now are the things that intimidate me, so be it. It will only make me a better, stronger cook in the end.
ROASTED TURNIPS WITH BROWN BUTTER RAMP VINAIGRETTE
Adapted from Renee Erickson’s A Boat, A Whale & A Walrus cookbook
Takes 30 mintues
Makes enough for 2
Look for small white turnips. These are spring turnips. They should be about golf ball-sized. A little larger is absolutely fine. Look for small turnips with beautiful greens. If you can’t find that, feel free to sub in spinach or any other yummy cooking green.
Ramps are an early spring veggie, so look for them in late April to early May. Don’t be like chef Jared. Don’t buy them in 10 (or even 5) pound increments. There is such a thing as too many ramps.
Don’t have ramps (because their season is super duper short and/or you don’t live somewhere like Madison which has so many great veggies available in so many places)?! Feel free to sub in minced shallot, red onion or even scallions. A tablespoon should do. More is absolutely fine.
1 bunch small turnips, with greens ideally
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons brown butter vinaigrette (below)
Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil on the stove. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Trim the tops off your turnips (but save them!) so that there is about a half inch of green stem remaining. Cut the turnips into quarters. Toss your turnips into the boiling water for 1 minute. Drain. Lay out on a towel to dry.
Heat a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Once its hot, add the olive oil. Add the turnips and toss gently for 4 to 5 minutes until the skin begins to char on most sides. Medium was hot enough on my stove. It might not be on yours. You want the skin to burn very slightly and it should smoke a little. Keep turning the heat up until the turnips take on the appropriate color.
Remove turnips from heat. Trim turnip greens (remove from stem and tear into pieces; I do this by hand). Add to hot pan. Toss a little (still off of the heat). Add two tablespoons of the vinaigrette over the greens. Stir to combine. Cook for five minutes in preheated oven.
Remove from oven and toss with a little Kosher salt to taste. Try not to eat them all immediately!
Brown Butter Vinaigrette:
Makes about 1/4 cup, save the remainder; it will keep for a couple weeks in the fridge
5 tablespoons butter
3 ramps, white and pink parts only, minced
1 teaspoon champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar or rice vinegar or lemon juice)
This is best done about a half hour before you begin preparing the turnips because the butter takes a little while to cool and the turnips cook very quickly.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. It will melt and then foam and then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pan. The moment it smells nutty and looks golden brown, remove it from the heat. Let cool for 15 minutes.
Combine ramps and vinegar in the prep bowl of a food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, constant whisking in a medium-sized bowl will work fine! Once the butter is cooled, pour it very slowly into the food processor (while it’s running) or your bowl (while you are rapidly whisking). The mixture will thicken (or in fancy terms–imulsify) as you very slowly add the butter. Tada! It’s a vinaigrette now!