Scott Pampuch hooks up with Muir Glen tomatoes. What's that about?

What's cooking at Corner Table
What's cooking at Corner Table

"So, how did you get hooked up with Muir Glen?" chef and restaurant owner Scott Pampuch was asked while whipping together a dinner featuring the California-grown tomatoes Wednesday night. 

Smiling slyly, he replied, "Oh, you just wanna get right into it?  Okay."  Pampuch is likely aware of what has been said about the pairing of the chef-leader of Tour de Farms, advocate of local farmers and passionate devotee of seasonal cooking, with a commercially canned product shipped in from out of state. 

Another vocal, locally committed chef even went so far as to imply that Pampuch's integrity may be questionable as a result of accepting this offer. He wasn't the only one wondering how Pampuch would reconcile his commitment to local, sustainably grown foods and his newfound position cooking, promoting, and writing recipes featuring something out of a can. In November Food Service News devoted an article to the pairing.

So what does he have to say for himself?

Iit began with a phone call, he explained, followed by a lot of soul searching. Considering what home cooks face in their search for quality products was a factor. "It's been a long time since I shopped in a grocery store. I went to see what was available."  Then he tasted what Muir Glen had to offer. Explaining that he was impressed with the flavor, straight out of the can, he maintained that while he will always strongly believe in local food, "At the end of the day, it's about quality of flavor."

He flew out to California, met with other chefs, and tasted the product, doing what he said he would do here in Minneapolis. He ate the fruit straight from the vine, saw the soil, talked to the farmers and workers, and compared notes with the other chefs.  In the end he found that he could not only accept this offer and sleep well at night, but now can't imagine why he would have ever turned it down. Next? "We had to find a can opener."

In line with his commitment to ingredients, he's developed several dishes, including an Amatriciana sauce (his own prosciutto standing in for the traditional guanciale), tomato sorbet, and a gastric made from the drained off liquid from the diced tomatoes (basically a fancy ketchup). All were beautifully balanced without even a trace of tin flavor.

It has been almost seven years that Corner Table has been open, and Pampuch is gearing up for more changes. The restaurant space has recently been remodeled. The mellow, mossy green walls are flanked by 110-year-old pine board salvaged from the chef's home and adorned with seasonal photography. And a small meat cooler now stands at the front, where the ingredients he relies on will be available for retail sale, including some of his meats and duck confit. What's more, he assured us that more big changes are coming soon. This should be interesting.

Scott Pampuch hooks up with Muir Glen tomatoes. What's that about?

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