It’s a Friday morning in early November and “Farmer” Bob Schuett has just shown up at the backdoor of Muffuletta, 2260 Como Ave. W., with a produce delivery that includes Swiss chard, Honeycrisp apples, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and (believe it or not) tomatoes.
These are the makings of what chef Jason Schellin calls his brown-bag special. Throughout the week, Schellin takes what farmers bring to his restaurant and brainstorms each night’s menu. This night, the special will be pan-roasted Hawaiian blue marlin with roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. Schellin plans to combine the apples with the watermelon radishes (green flesh with a bright red interior) he bought from another farmer the day before to create a salad to accompany the dish.
“It’s always something different every day,” Schellin said. About 40 percent of the restaurant’s menu stays the same, and the rest changes with the season.
Farmer Bob is one of seven regulars who deliver produce and meat to Muffuletta throughout the week during the growing season. Schuett and about three other farmers continue their deliveries throughout the winter.
“[Schuett] is known to have really, really nice tomatoes [in the winter] that still taste like tomatoes,” Schellin said. The farmer grows them hydroponically so his customers can get tomatoes all year long. He’s also known to go to great lengths to provide just the right ingredient to his chefs. Last winter, Schuett dug out a crop of collard greens from a snow bank. They were frozen, Schellin said, but once they were rinsed off they were fine. Collard greens are hardy and can withstand freezing temperatures.
Muffuletta chef Jason Schellin
Schellin’s favorite season to cook is late summer and early fall when tomatoes and corn are in abundance along with summer beans, peas and carrots. “There’s so much to work with, plus at the end of summer you get early butternut squash. You have the best of two seasons to work with,” Schellin said.
Now that the days are short and temperatures are dipping, Schellin is working more with slow-cooked meals. “We do the restaurant’s version of the crockpot: braising meat, short ribs, pork shoulder. I love to work with legumes – beans and lentils – in winter.” The meats he uses also come straight from farmers.
Muffuletta lists its seven main local farmers on a sign in the restaurant: Farmer Bob of Scandia, Fischer Family Farms of Waseca, Midwest Salad Company of Waseca, Wild Acres Poultry of Pequot Lakes, Hidden Streams Farm of Elgin, 1,000 Acres Cattle Company of Cannon Falls and Footjoy Farms of Sparta, Wis. Schellin also orders lamb from Hill and Vale Farms of Wykoff and eggs, meat and cheese through the Southeast Minnesota Food Network, a cooperative of small family farms.
“A lot of small farms don’t have transportation or the means to get stuff up here,” he said. The network allows the farms to pool their resources in order to sell their products in the Twin Cities.
The backdoor deliveries are a traveling farmer’s market, Schellin said, a system he prefers to him visiting the cities’ markets on the weekends. “A lot of chefs will do the Saturday and Sunday farmers markets because it’s good to have them seen doing this. To me it’s – for lack of a better term – a waste of time and a waste of money when I can get the same stuff and have them deliver it.”
Schellin has been with Muffuletta for three years, but the practice of buying from local farmers began before him. He said Farmer Bob Schuett has stories that go back to two or three chefs before Schellin.
He’s carrying on the tradition of farm-to-table seasonal food, he said, and “letting the deliveries dictate what ends up on the menu. That’s the fun thing about our job.”