Chef Chat: Lenny Russo, part 2


Today we continue our discussion with Lenny Russo (click here to read Part 1), as we learn more about his leadership style, the weirdest things he has ever eaten (think psychedelic lizards), and some of the strange request he gets over the phone (think balls).

What is your favorite dish on your menu? The menu changes everyday, so that's not applicable to us, but I do dote on our daily charcuterie selections.

If you could put any dish on your menu, what would it be? Rack of elk. It's too expensive to serve as an a la carte option in this market. Folks don't want to pay $40 to $45 for an entree in Twin Cities fine-dining restaurants unless they are at a steakhouse. I don't understand that mentality, but that's the reality. If you own a steakhouse, you can charge whatever you want. The rest of us have an upper limit of around $30 to $35. You would think it would be the other way around since the levels of expertise and creativity are higher in restaurants like ours, but it's paradoxical.

What's your favorite knife? Which ever one is needed to get the job done correctly. I have dozens of knives that are specific to different tasks. It's like being an auto mechanic. You can't repair a car with just a screwdriver and a mallet.

What is the hardest lesson you've learned? There is a difference between being respected and being feared. A real leader earns the respect of those who follow him or her. Leading by intimidation can only get you so far. If you lead that way, people will undermine, at first opportunity, everything you are trying to do.

What are your favorite cookbooks? I rely heavily on the classics such as the Larousse Gastronomique and Escoffier's The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery. I am also very fond of Jane Grigson's The Art of Charcuterie.

What show would you pitch to the Food Network? I have already done that, and they think I'm too intellectual. I shot a pilot that was about small family farms and how the food travels from those farms to the tables in a restaurant. I think they want someone who is a little more Lucille Ball and a lot less Bill Moyers.

What has been the weirdest thing you've ever eaten? I don't really consider anything that's edible to be very weird. I grew up in an Italian family eating all kinds of stuff people would consider weird and most of it raw at that, so I don't find anything particularly weird. I did eat a few hallucinogenic lizards when I was in high school while cutting class and wandering around New York City's Chinatown, and there are some things I don't enjoy very much, like shad roe. For the most part, I eat it all without finding it too weird, and that includes brains, testicles, kidneys, hearts, feet, and eyeballs.

What has been your weirdest customer request? Ever since we appeared on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, I get all kinds of crazy requests. It 's not that unusual to have someone call me on the phone and ask to eat my balls.

And on that fine note, we will leave you for day, to return tomorrow for the final installment of our interview with Russo, where he will also share a favorite seasonal recipe. Ciao!