Brasa cooks up an impressive benefit for Land Stewardship Project

As the sky turned dusky, diners began arriving at Brasa in St. Paul, ignoring the signs saying "Closed for a benefit." Tickets in hand, they knew they were in the right place--a specially prepared dinner by celebrated chef Alex Roberts to raise funds for the Land Stewardship Project, a group dedicated to sustainable agriculture. In raggy Run-DMC T-shirts and business suits, everyone from 11-year-olds to octogenarians found seats next to strangers at the family-style tables and made themselves at home by pouring open bottles of Morgan Creek Vineyards wine--not a bad social lubricant.

And then, over the din, the parade of food began.

The starters were cause for oohs and aahs--bowls of stunning red and yellow heirloom tomatoes with cornbread and basil, fresh nuggets of Prairie Breeze raw-milk sharp cheddar, green beans with perfect leaves of lettuce and lightly fried onion strings, and smoked chicken salad that diners sandwiched between perfectly golden crostini and equally golden pear compote.

Ninety guests were served during the first of two seatings for the benefit.
Ninety guests were served during the first of two seatings for the benefit.
Sara Rice

As the waitstaff gently extracted the empty bowls, the main course was delivered. At least 30 pounds of beef and 50 pounds of pork ribs were brought in for the two seatings, thanks to Ryan Jepsen of Grass Run Farms.

The dull roar was broken by clinking glasses, and Mike McMahon, LSP's membership coordinator and the point person for the benefit, welcomed attendees. He briefly highlighted the nonprofit's work promoting policy that evens the playing field for family farms at all levels of government, trains first-time farmers in low-cost, sustainable farming techniques in a Farm Beginnings program, and, probably most visibly to the average person, supports community-based food and economic development, connecting consumers and farmers through its CSA directory and other resources.

The guests' conversations flowed from favorite CSA farms to involvement with the Land Stewardship Project to how Roberts picked the names of his restaurants, studded with interjections of "Have you tried the..." as the chef made his way around the dining room to greet everyone.

It was truly an impressive meal, though not every course was noteworthy. The corn fritters, though hot and crispy, lacked flavor, and the cheesecake brownie was only so-so. But the most successful dishes--the starters--were stunning, and the peach pudding with blueberry sauce and whipped cream held small chunks of the season's best peaches and blueberries, bursting with summer flavor.

The farthest any of the dinner's ingredients came (save for chocolate and sugar) was the beef processed in Nebraska--although it was raised in Elgin, Minnesota. Nearly everything--down to the vegetarian baked black beans--was produced and procured in Minnesota and Iowa.

Chef Alex Roberts has two more benefit dinners in the works, supporting other local organizations. Stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, check out the Land Stewardship Project for resources on how to find a CSA--or even how to buy your own farm.

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Brasa Rotisserie

777 Grand Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55105


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