Jason Blair of Red Stag Supperclub, Chef Chat Part 1

Jason Blair is a Minnesota guy through and through.  Growing up in Delano, one of his first jobs was working at a hometown pizza joint.  From there he started down a culinary path that has led through some of the most beautiful, lush parts of the country, only to find himself right back where it all started. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu, he's worked in Seattle, Portland, and Alaska under the tutelage of James Beard Award winning and Top Chef Masters competing chefs. 

After working in the kitchen of Kim Bartmann's Red Stag Supperclub for the past two years, Blair moved into the executive chef position this summer, adding his own flavor to Midwestern favorites.

Passionate about sustainable farming, he fosters relationships with local farmers and grows his own vegetables at the home he shares with his wife and young son.  We sat down with him over a basket of fresh fried cheese curds to discuss food nerds, fish fries, and the importance of a plate with purpose. 

What was your first cooking job?
Well, I started out working at a pizza place, but it wasn't just cooking. I was delivering pizzas, cooking, whatever. One of my first real cooking jobs was thanks to a friend of mine, Justin Frederick, who works with D'Amico now. He was cooking at Giorgio's in Uptown. He just showed up at my apartment--I was living off 26th Street at the time--and he said, "You said you wanted to learn to cook? Come on." And I started cooking with him there. It was a great experience.

I worked at Pizza Luce for a while. I got to help open up the Duluth restaurant. After that I realized I needed to really go to school. I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Mendota Heights and got my degree. 

I had a buddy out in Seattle who said, "Come out here," so that's where I did my externship. I worked with Maria Hines, who won the James Beard Award last year from Tilth and was just on Top Chef Masters.

How did you end up in Portland?
It was the day before I was going to move back to Minnesota. I was all packed up when I got a call from a friend of mine who said that I should really come see what was going on out there. Just a cool town full of food... You know, I hate the word "foodie..."

Food nerds?
Yeah, I like that--that's better. So I moved out to Portland and worked at Clarklewis off and on. All the while doing this great farm-to-table food.

Then how did you end up in Alaska?
It was really similar to Portland. So we, my girlfriend--uh, woman friend, wife now--we went up there for the tourist season. Moved back to Portland for a bit and then came back to Minnesota. We wanted to come back to the Midwest. My wife is originally from Ohio, and I'm from here. We wanted to raise our family here.

As a parent, how do you approach cooking for a toddler?
Make it fun. It's so much fun. He helps out. My son is the best garlic peeler around. He loves everything. I mean, he'll eat blue cheese and black olives. I think it's also a lot about how you react, not saying, "Oh yuck or gross!"  You know, I loved beets until I heard someone say, "Oh gross, we're eating beets?" It wrecked me on beets for years. Of course, now I love them. We have this beet salad on the menu with shaved fennel, oranges, and Manchego cheese.

The other thing about us is that we always try to keep everything healthy and balanced. My wife and I, we love to hike and take our son with us all over the place. Plus we have a garden in the back yard. I'm hoping one day to be able to expand and have a little farm. It's all about finding the time, and balance. That's the hardest thing as a parent, balancing a job and family. It's so important, and it is so hard

Our discussion with chef Blair continues tomorrow.

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