A big name and an even bigger personality in the world of food has passed away.
Brian Nelson is the name on every chef's lips this morning as word spreads that Nelson, wholesale manager and veteran Coastal Seafoods fishmonger, has died.
People like Steven Brown (Tilia), Doug Flicker (Piccolo), Lenny Russo (Heartland), Erik Anderson (the forthcoming Brut) -- it seems the list could go on for paragraphs-- are heartbroken over the sudden passing of a colleague, a seafood scholar, and a gentleman with a wicked wit.
"I've been talking to Brian five days a week for about 11 years and just did yesterday around 3:00," says Beth Jones, executive chef at the University of Minnesota Campus Club. "Tim [Lauer, general manager] gave me the news. I thought he was joking. We're all heartbroken."
"Brian always sent weird pictures or funny gifts along with our fish order," Doug Flicker remembers. "You'd just open the box and there would be this photo of a monkey hugging a dove or a picture of himself. I talked to him two to three times a week for the last 25 years. He will be missed."
"He was a very, very, very important part of the Minneapolis food scene," says Erik Anderson. "I don't know anybody who didn't like Brian Nelson. He always went out of his way to send some crazy fucking holiday greeting -- he had a fucking bizarre sense of humor, too, but I think a lot of us do in this business."
More than one of his clients mentioned his love of wiener dogs -- he had a beloved pooch named Jolie -- and Lenny Russo commented: "Brian once tried to breed his dachshund Jolie with our English cocker spaniel Pipo. He said we would have cockawienies and be in-laws. We passed on that... We will miss him terribly."
"This is the cooler door at Piccolo," says Flicker, pointing to the photo on the right. "It has five years of kitchen tape and memories of our time here. The picture is of Brian Nelson from the late '70s when he was in a high school band."
We received the same photo from Anderson. "That's how I like to remember Brian," he says.
"He was just a sweet, sweet guy," says Steven Brown, who has been ordering fish from Nelson since the late 1980s. "He was just so passionate. He used to say we lived in the 'golden age' of fish."
There are few purveyors who have this effect on their clients, Anderson emphasizes. "My fish business doesn't go anywhere else. It's crazy that 80 percent of my interaction with this person was on the phone, but he became like extended family."
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