Asher Miller cooks quail at a rest stop

The chef as still life.
The chef as still life.
Chris Bohnhoff Photography

20.21's resident chef Asher Miller is as comfortable making the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry out of chocolate as he is whipping together a rest stop lunch on the weekend. But at the end of the day, this chef prefers a heap of mango salsa and chips to multiple courses.

1. What's one thing we might not know about Wolfgang Puck? Does he secretly love Twinkies? Wolfgang actually knows his art. At an event here two years ago, I was using Sigmar Polke as inspiration for a plate of food to compete with nine other chefs. Before the event, Wolfgang walked up behind me and asked me what I was doing for my plate. I assumed he didn't know about the artist, so I just explained the painting I was using as inspiration, and the food I was making. He looked at the painting and was like, "Oh, Sigmar Polke. He's a German. I have one of those."

2. What's different about being a restaurant within a popular museum instead of a standard restaurant? Are expectations higher? People really don't expect to have fine dining in a museum. That probably goes in our favor. They do expect the Wolfgang name to bring something extra to their experience. With an open kitchen and the giant windows, it's easy to be caught up in the dining room energy. Consistency is the other thing diners look for. We have a lot of return business, and people expect to have the same quality of food and service every time they return.

3. How closely does the food you make at home resemble what you make at 20.21? Or is home a time for hot dogs and mac 'n' cheese since you have a 1-year-old? I don't take the time to cook at home the way we cook at the restaurant. Waaaay too time consuming. I like to cook vegetarian chicken patties, lentils, pastas, and make cheese-cracker plates. My favorite is to make a huge batch of mango salsa to eat with chips when I get home late. I'm always hungry when I get home, and once I start on something, I can't put it down (like a pint of ice cream), which can be dangerous. We have a 1-year-old, and she's been slow to grasp the solids concept. Mom is vegetarian, but I'm hoping to entice the baby with lobster and kobe beef when she's old enough.

4. You recently made gourmet road food at a rest stop. What was on the menu, and why cook at a rest stop? The idea for the rest stop food was typical picnic fare, but uncommonly fancy for a road trip rest break. Tuna salad, egg salad, kebabs, and burgers were the starting point. Tuna salad became ahi tuna sashimi crostini with olives, capers, green beans, and lemon vinaigrette. Egg salad became souped-up devilled eggs with homemade pickle relish, celery, shallot, chives, tarragon, dill, French Dijon, and turmeric. I brined the thighs and breasts of quail and skewered those for the grill and made little 1-ounce burgers with little honey buns. I wouldn't normally think of taking piping bags or sashimi or quail to a picnic.

5. When you're not working or eating at a rest stop, where do you like to dine out in the Twin Cities? We try to stay up to date with Twin Cities' restaurants as best we can. It's harder now with the baby and both of us working full time. We did go to Bar La Grassa for my birthday in May. I really liked the scrambled egg with lobster dish. Isaac said they can't make enough of that. I don't doubt it. Last weekend, randomly, we went to Osteria i Nonni in Lilydale. I'd been wanting to check that out since '03 or '04. I was kind of surprised at how good it was. The gnocchi with favas and mushrooms was excellent. When we eat at home and don't want to cook, I like to pick up food from Joy's Pattaya Thai in Richfield because it's pretty close to our house. The curries are decent and I really like the drunken noodles.

6. What was the last dish you ate that truly impressed or inspired you? About three years ago, La Belle Vie had a raviolini with mushrooms and truffle on their lounge menu. Every little thing in there was perfectly seasoned. We still talk about that at home.

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