Harmony chef honored by peers, continues PBS cooking segment
Thursday, May 16, 2013 3:56 AM
Stephen Larson, owner and chef at Harmony's QUARTER/quarter Restaurant, has recently been recognized as one of the country's top culinary talents by his peers. He has been included in the new publication, "Best Chefs America," which is a peer review guide of chefs throughout the United States.
Larson admitted the honor was quite unexpected, yet he is more than pleased to have been included and quite honored that his fellow chefs felt he was worthy of being nominated.
He explained that one first needed to be nominated by a certain percentage of other chefs to even be considered for the book. Then, for the past year, food analysts conducted over 5,000 confidential telephone interviews with other food experts and chefs throughout the country. Larson said he did not know that he was even being considered for inclusion in the book.
The book, Larson added, is a coffee table book that can serve as a reference for food enthusiasts and for the general public to learn about chefs that are respected and revered by others in the food industry.
Sections of the book are broken down geographically and alphabetically.
Michael Ruhlman, one of the country's most respected culinary journalists and authors, volunteered to pen the guide's foreword. The fact that he was involved added credibility to the project for Larson, who had been skeptical about this honor at first. "I was suspicious at first, thinking they were just trying to sell books," he admitted. "But then I saw that Michael Ruhlman was involved. He's big in the food-writing world."
The book also includes stunning photography featuring the emerging trends and ingredients discovered throughout the course of interviews, and there is also a section highlighting 25 of the most influential chefs in America.
Beyond the gratitude Larson feels for being included in this book is the potential publicity it provides for his local community. "This recognition is not only an honor for me, it also shows that great food can be found in a small, rural Minnesota community like Harmony," he added.
Larson has over 30 years of experience in the food industry, covering almost every facet of professional cooking. He has served as executive chef at several fine dining restaurants, operated his own cooking school and now owns and operates QUARTER/quarter in Harmony with his wife, Lisa Flicker.
Integrity of food
Larson feels that his fellow chefs who nominated him may have respect for his integrity as it relates to food. He chooses the finest ingredients and stays true to himself and his style of cooking.
"I have a great ability to make food that is both recognizable and unique," he explained. "There is usually some element of comfort to it. Even if it is esoteric, at its core it is very approachable."
He added that he does not want people to be afraid to try his food. "I want people to enjoy themselves in my restaurant," Larson explained. "I don't want them to be uncomfortable or unsure of what they are eating."
Larson also mentioned that having great ingredients can be the inspiration for everything he cooks.
"I respect that ingredient with what I do with it," he said.
Even though he might look at a dish and say, "That's spectacular," it's is important to keep it priced reasonably to make sure the dining experience at QUARTER/quarter remains affordable to the local residents.
Currently, one of his favorite ingredients is the oyster mushrooms from Back Forty Farms in rural Harmony. "They are hands down the nicest mushrooms I've worked with," he stated. "I am coming up with a dish that will be showcasing those mushrooms this summer."
Another of his favorite ingredients is a halal duck from Maple Leaf Farms. He described it as being the Islam equivalent to kosher. "It's the most beautiful duck," he added. "Their farming practices are above reproach."
He also loves using the eggs from his wife's ducks and produce and herbs he and his wife grow in their gardens. Larson said he is excited about modifying his menu for the summer and has many ideas for new dishes to add while keeping some of the local favorites.
Larson shared other good news when he announced he would be taping additional cooking segments for KSMQ Public Television and its series "Garden Connections." Last year, Larson taped a series of short demonstrations, which focused on using specific ingredients from the garden and used them in new and exciting ways that viewers may not have thought of.
"They were quite happy with how things turned out, as was I," Larson said about last year's segments.
"They made me look really good," he added with a laugh. "They do a great job of putting it together so things look like they progress seamlessly."
The season of "Garden Connections" includes 13 episodes and Larson said he would be doing segments for at least 12.
While Larson had not yet determined what dishes he would be demonstrating, he did say his recipes would mesh with the places the show visited and the garden themes of each episode.
Larson said the whole process of taping these food segments is "absolutely frightening," which surprises him as he's cooked in front of rooms full of people before without being intimidated.
He said he just has a hard time being himself in front of the camera. In spite of that, he has been very pleased with the final product that has aired on the PBS station.
Larson said he has received some feedback on the segments at the restaurant, but is not sure if they have impacted the number of diners coming in to experience his food. "I know it brings additional exposure to Harmony, which benefits all of us," he added. "The more episodes I do, the more possibilities there are that someone will see it and want to visit our community and our restaurant."
Wine and food pairing classes
Larson continues to offer classes at QUARTER/quarter for food and wine pairing. Larson explained that these classes help participants learn how to match the right wine with different types of food they may be eating. The class includes a generous tasting portion of three different wines, a matched food pairing for each and an informational packet.
The classes run about an hour and a half so there is also plenty of time for questions, answers and discussion.
Larson says he enjoys these classes immensely as they allow him to be creative with his food choices.
"They are a captive audience and I can feed them anything my heart desires," he added with a grin. "It's wonderful to have a group and know they trust you to feed them well. It's a magical experience and my creativity blossoms knowing the flexibility I have with these smaller groups."
Larson also enjoys the art of elaborate plating, which he can showcase during these classes as well. "It is literally fun for me to do," he added. "Chefs can't say that enough!"
Upcoming classes include a May class on "Sophisticated Aussie Chardonnays" and a June class on "Eclectic White Varietals." For more information on these classes, one may visit www.quarterquarter.com.
Currently, QUARTER/quarter is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 4:30 and seating continues until 8 p.m. Larson anticipates expanding those hours for the summer season in the near future. One may check out his website for exact hours, his Facebook page or call the restaurant at (507) 886-5500.