By Michelle Lawrence
A few weeks ago, a fellow food enthusiast and I sat down over a plate of bleu cheese-slathered hot wings to talk shop and all things food.
Indulging ourselves in a ritual feast of the high-cholesterol bar favorites, she suggested that I try Victory 44 — a chef-run gourmet restaurant in the Victory/Camden neighborhood of North Minneapolis — a neighborhood known for being a “food desert” due to its shortage of places offering quality produce and nutritious foods.
So, acting on her suggestion, one Saturday evening my husband and I decided to take a trip to Victory 44 — an oasis in a food desert.
As my husband and I entered the restaurant through its rear door, we were immediately greeted by chefs who were busily cooking up dishes in the open kitchen lined against the western wall. With its high ceilings, hardwood floors and airy atmosphere, Victory 44 oozes urban chic.
Taking our seats and soaking in the vibe of the restaurant, we noticed the menu, which was written on a chalkboard hanging just over my right shoulder. As I looked over the chalk-written menu, I recalled my fellow food enthusiast saying that Victory 44 chefs were not “just cooking — they were doing food science.”
After deciding on menu items, I knew I had come to Victory 44 not to just become acquainted with it, but to experience food science.
To start, we ordered the lobster roll — delicately cooked lobster rolled beautifully in a wonton wrapper, deep fried and served with a drizzle of celery sauce surrounded by homemade malt vinegar potato chips.
For the following course, we tried the lamb chops, which were perfectly cooked and tasty but left us still hungry and curious. So, we tried the steak and potatoes, which arrived just like the other dishes, beautifully manicured and arranged on a round black plate.
The uniqueness of the steak and potatoes course wasn’t that the potatoes had been cooked and served three ways — mashed, fried, and roasted — but that the cooking methods were unique. The mashed potatoes had been whipped to the consistency of whipped cream, and the roasted potatoes were purple, from Peru. The steak was thinly sliced, served medium rare and covered with a chimichurri sauce, which is a sauce indigenous to Latin American cuisine and made of finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano, white or red vinegar, and red pepper flakes, paprika, cumin, thyme, lemon, and bay leaf.
While the steak and potatoes dish was interesting and unique, we were still hungry. So, we ordered the cod fish, which had been beautifully prepared by slicing pinwheels into the fish and then wrapping in chicken fat, which gave the fish extra flavor and made it appear like a stained glass window, served over green peas that had been prepared using a technique that made them taste like slightly inflated green air balls. Complete with pods and cheese, the dish was fun to look at, but again, we were still hungry.
At the end of the dinner, my husband and I looked at each other amusingly and shared an intuitive moment: We knew that despite having spent nearly $100, we were still hungry. Still sharing a grin, I waited for him to walk around the table, pull out my chair, and escort me to the car so that we could go home and cook something that would satisfy the soul. Food science had amused and dazzled our eyes and palate, but the soul was still hungry and less than enchanted.
The following recipe is what I created when we returned home. It is a dish that left my husband longing for more and completely enraptured with me: soul-made food.
2 filets of cod fish
1 bag of frozen, chopped collard greens
½ slab of turkey or pork bacon
1 red bell pepper, sliced
6 Yukon gold potatoes
¾ stick of real butter
3 Serrano chilies
2 tbsp. of honey
½ cup of chopped Vidalia onion
2 cloves of minced garlic
Lemon pepper seasoning
Generously season the fish with honey, lemon pepper and a pinch of salt, then set aside to marinate in the refrigerator. Slice the bacon into bits and fry until crunchy, then place on a plate covered with paper towel to drain excess oil, and set aside.
Slice red pepper into thin strips, place in a bowl of water and set aside.
Slice potatoes into ¼ inch thick round chips, place in a bowl of water and set aside.
Finely chop Serrano peppers, onions and garlic, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the potatoes from the water and drain to allow them to dry.
Heat a non-stick frying pan with one tbsp. of vegetable oil on high heat until hot, (about four-to-five minutes), and fry the potatoes until they are half cooked. Then place them onto a plate covered with a paper towel to drain excess oil. After each potato has been fried, place them into a 9” non-stick pie pan and into the 350-degree oven.
Fry the Serrano peppers, garlic, and onion in a tsp. of vegetable oil, then add the collard greens, a pinch of salt and sauté. When the greens are nearly soft, add the bacon and red bell pepper. Then let simmer on low heat until greens are completely soft. The bell peppers should remain somewhat firm.
Heat a non-stick frying pan with ½ tbsp. of butter and a ¼ tbsp. of vegetable oil. When the frying pan is hot, sear the fish until brown and crisp on each side (about four minutes per side).
Remove the potatoes, place them in a pinwheel on the plate, and scoop collards over them with the fish on top. Drizzle with a little honey, and serve hot.
Michelle Lawrence, MA, MPH, specializes in cooking African-based dishes and relationship-enhancing dining experiences for families and couples. She can be reached at 612-251-9516.