Tag Archives: Bryce Coulton

Brave New Prairie

May 1, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally appeared in Omaha Magazine’s May/June 2015 issue.

A small sign in Summer Miller’s kitchen speaks volumes about her mission: “Love people. Cook them tasty food.”

Seated in the cozy kitchen of her charming Elkhorn-area country home (formerly a one-room schoolhouse), the love is on full display as Miller flits throughout the room, doing a dance many home cooks and parents know well. She canters left, stirring a pot of homemade soup, then right, fetching milk for her daughter, Juniper. After pausing for a hug with her little “Junebug,” coffee is poured for the adults; its aroma mingling with the lingering scent of fresh-baked bread.

Tasty food is also achieved as Miller, a local journalist, author, and foodie, serves up a preview of the edible delights featured in New Prairie Kitchen, her seasonally driven cookbook that connects home chefs to the local food movement by weaving together the recipes and stories of 25 chefs, farmers, and artisans from Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. In the book, nationally recognized restaurants and Beard-nominated chefs sit at the same proverbial dinner table alongside humble farmers, bakers, and artisans, all united in a passion for local food done right.

“The book celebrates our regional food community through stories, photography, and recipes,” says Miller. “I started [it] at a time in my life when I needed inspiration. From that perspective, I personally needed to find these people and places. Once I did, I was so moved by the experiences I had—the stories the farmers, chefs, and artisans shared, and the beauty of the food—that I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.”

The beauty Miller found over four years traveling and collecting stories is palpable in her preparation of Dante Ristorante Pizzeria chef Nick Strawhecker’s strawberry jam and The Grey Plume chef Clayton Chapman’s ricotta, which team up atop a honey-oat bread recipe from Hastings’ Back Alley Bakery. An earthy, savory braised chicken soup follows. It’s a seasonally adjusted version of a Strawhecker dish from the book, featuring carrots from Rhizosphere Farm (located in the Loess Hills of Iowa just south of Missouri Valley) and chicken from Plum Creek Farms (Burchard, Neb.), and it’s a bowl-tipper to be sure.

George P. Johnson, owner of George Paul Vinegar, says New Prairie Kitchen offers readers “treasured recipes to hand down through generations.”

The recipes and producers here are indeed treasures, and the book is the treasure map.

“I love being around creative, innovative people because they infuse everything and everyone around them with a sense of possibility,” says Miller. “When those personalities exist in the food world we benefit as home cooks and shoppers. Rather than eating food only for sustenance, we get to eat food that nourishes us, yes, but also teaches us about a certain corner of the world. The act of preparing, sharing, and eating food becomes a cultural and emotive experience. When we connect to places, and, more importantly, the people of those places, whether that place is our dinner table, the farmers market, or a restaurant, and the people, family or new friends, we build our community, making it a more enjoyable place to live. Our experiences become more profound.”

The vibrant pages of New Prairie Kitchen, which is set for release later this month, are illuminated with stunning images from the talented photographer Dana Damewood. Wide landscape shots, close-ups of chickens, vegetables, smiling chefs, a red tractor, a handful of grain, exquisitely plated meals, an old Dodge Ram van with the license plate reading “GARLIC” — all a familiar yet striking array of Midwestern artifacts representing a contemporary take on classic Americana. The book manages to simultaneously represent old and new, sophisticated and simple.

“It’s difficult sometimes to get a good sense of the local food movement and what it truly looks like,” says Terra Hall of Rhizosphere Farm, “particularly the connections that make such a strong community. Telling food stories from a particular region, you can really see how everything is connected and the powerful impact of keeping food and its economy local. Summer did an amazing job highlighting the people changing the foodscape in the prairie region. The food we grow and how it is prepared is a true representation of a place, a people, and a climate. Which, frankly, is what I think food should be.”

And you needn’t be from the area to appreciate its riches. Taryn Huebner, Oprah Winfrey’s private chef, calls New Prairie Kitchen “a gift” and its recipes “mouthwatering” and “soul-quenching. This is more than a cookbook—it’s a love letter to the heartland,” Huebner writes.

The French Bulldog’s Bryce Coulton says the book celebrates individual and shared connections to food, as well as a “back-to-basics” approach.

“More than being prideful,” Coulton says, “Midwesterners exhibit an appreciation for the sincere efforts of their neighbors, be they farmers, artisans, or cooks. And Summer has told their stories: stories of relationships, collaboration, working toward a goal outside of our immediate selves.”

“I hope the book inspires people to cook at home and frequent restaurants that support our local farmers and artisans,” says Miller, “but also to explore their communities and discover the resources available to them. We are surrounded by so many wonderful people, flavors, and places. It’s a shame to overlook the diamonds in our own backyard.”

Sarah Wengert, the author of the story above, will moderate a panel at Summer Miller’s reading, discussion, and book-signing event at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 9 at the Bookworm.

SummerMillerWeb

Soap Dreams

December 7, 2014 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ryan Cook was working at Dundee’s Amsterdam Falafel & Kabob when a crowded kabob machine fat trap got him thinking ruefully about the sheer magnitude of the goop that went to waste. So, naturally, he decided to make it into soap.

Perhaps a slight leap of reason, but Cook and Benson Soap Mill co-owner, Tim Maides, quickly realized they were onto something special—creating eco-friendly, handcrafted soap from local, recycled ingredients.

Cook says their foremost commitment is to a global-friendly, sustainable business.

“That’s our ethos,” he says. “It’s about how we can access local, unused resources to create something valuable.”

“We both have culinary backgrounds,” says Maides, “so that’s a prevalent theme. You always want to use everything you have and can get your hands on. Even our labels are recycled paper bags that we stamp and repurpose.”

Cook pushed beyond his original fat-spiration, studying the chemistry of soap-making and exploring superior fat sources from which to render tallow for soap.

“We started collecting from restaurants doing in-house butchering,” says Cook. “Talking to chefs, we realized how much fresh, high-quality, unprocessed, excess fat is just literally being thrown in the trash. It’s dozens of pounds per hog per restaurant, everywhere.”

“Bryce (Coulton) from French Bulldog really got us started,” says Maides. Cook concurs, calling Coulton a “very encouraging mentor.”

The duo practiced rendering high-quality, fresh tallow, while also exploring regional nut and seed oils. By summer 2013, Benson Soap Mill sold its first bars, fittingly, at Benson Days.

Early on, batches were made in one huge block then cut into bars with wire or a samurai sword. While a decidedly hilarious tool for the job, the sword produced inconsistent bars, so Maides suggested moving to 4-ounce silicone molds, guaranteeing a uniform size and shape.

“Our soap is a unique, Midwestern soap,” says Maides, “because we’re using our own formula and not importing the same oils everyone else uses.”

Cook believes the positive feedback on their soap is due to quality materials, plus the absence of chemicals, detergents, and unnatural ingredients. Reading the ingredients of commercial soaps is enough to make one stop gleefully singing in the shower and start pursuing an advanced chemistry degree to decipher the contents. Counter to that, Benson Soap Mill’s Coffee Soap, for example, includes Blue Line Coffee grounds, sweet almond oil, and purified tallow. Period.

Other varieties include a red clay-colored Benson Bar and a black-flecked, navy blue Charcoal Soap, made with Nebraskan hardwood charcoal. There’s also Peppermint, Citrus-Ginger, Tea Tree, and more. Each variety has no more than five (totally comprehensible) ingredients and is made in small, patiently cured batches.

“[In the future] we want to forage and distill naturally growing wild plants in Western Nebraska and create own our own scent patterns, unique to the region,” says Maides.

Cook envisions expanding that template nationwide, using each area’s local fats, nut and seed oils, herbs, spices, mosses, and flowers.

“We’re always learning, getting better and more efficient,” says Cook, “which will ultimately allow us to broaden our comprehensive, sustainable concept.”

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The French Bulldog

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For Bryce Coulton, part-owner of Dundee’s The French Bulldog, life is not a bowl of cherries. It’s two wedges of roasted acorn squash, roasted balsamic onions and tomatoes, house-made ricotta, and a drizzle of mint oil, otherwise known as the eatery’s Acorn Squash Salad. But a little background on the chef first…20130312_bs_9071_Web

After traveling the world while serving in the U.S. military for 20 years, Coulton went to culinary school in Ireland, then spent time in London cooking before coming back to this side of the pond. He, along with partners Anne Cavanaugh and Phil Anania, opened The French Bulldog last September in what used to be a Subway.  Now in its place, cured meats hang and a rustic décor represent one of Omaha’s few charcuteries. “We wanted to establish ourselves as a place where people can find what they want,” he says, “Dundee has all walks of life and we aim to please everyone.”20130312_bs_8983_Web

The inspiration for The French Bulldog came from Bryce Coulton’s time in Europe and the idea of creating a simplistic space with a casual atmosphere. Customers are able to interact with the bartender and waitstaff as the bar also doubles as the prep area for the food. The French Bulldog specializes in cut meats, cheeses, and even a homemade pork pie (also London-inspired). In fact, everything is done in-house, down to Coulton’s personal mustard recipe. The New Jersey native explains, “I’m not big on side salads. The salad should be the star of the plate.”20130312_bs_9116_Web

He then reminisces on his favorite memory working at a café in London. “The café was in a greenhouse, a long, 30-foot shed. There was a path down to the garden where, if we ran out, we could pick fresh herbs or chard.”20130312_bs_8989_Web

Coulton met Cavanaugh and Anania, owners of another successful Dundee restaurant, Amsterdam Falafel, two and half years ago while working at The Boiler Room. Space in the Dundee area rarely opens, so when one did, the three jumped at the chance to create a place where people can get together for lunch, dinner, and everything in between. It’s a place of comfort and simple, unique dishes, where the specials are written on a chalkboard. When asked what the best thing he’s ever eaten is, Coulton thinks for a minute, then talks of a Jerusalem artichoke purée: “It was flavorful, unique, and simple.” It seems as though his favorite dish mimics his new and already successful Dundee restaurant.