Pampuch, top chef and beverage director at The Iron Horse Hotel and
founder of the award-winning Corner Table restaurant in the Twin
Cities, grew up in Winona, Minn., where his culinary training really
began. Being on the Mississippi River was a huge influence on him,
particularly since he spent a lot of time laboring in his grandparentsí
large garden there. The family pickled cucumbers and beets, froze all
sorts of vegetables, "put up" stewed tomatoes and made their
(pronounced "pam-poo") was 16, his first job was at his
godfatherís grocery store. It had a meat counter in the back where
he went every Saturday to clean the cooler and move what he recalls
were "too many cases of Arcadia Fryers." His first kitchen
job was as a dishwasher, then cook, at a Happy Chef restaurant in his
necessity drives people to try things. If they are lucky, they find
what they are supposed to be doing. "Ultimately, having to figure
out what I love to do brought me to where I am. Iím doing what I am
supposed to be doing," confides the sustainable food advocate,
one who is passionate about fresh ingredients.
there is a huge difference between a great chef and a great kitchen
manager. "A Ďmanagerí is a job, a title," he says,
adding that itís a stepping stone for some, the destination for
others. Yet being a "chef" is something that is worked for,
desired. It is a way of life, a thought process, a different
perspective, he says. "A chef is not a job. It is something that
either you are or are not," Pampuch emphasizes. "I feel it
has to be in you in order to be great at it. The coat and the title
have to be earned," Pampuch says.
life revolves around ingredients and cooking, getting people to become
adventurous at the table actually has nothing to do with food, he
says. "This is human nature. What you are asking someone to do
when you are feeding them is to trust you. Trust has to be earned, it
has be retained and given back. Kitchens need to respect those eating
and vice versa," Pampuch says.
"It is a
handshake that happens, a nod with no words. Then, and only then, will
someone truly become adventurous in their dining habits. Then they
will approach something that is different. You are asking someone to
change a habit. Right? That is simple. Itís just not easy," he
finding more diners who subscribe to the "eat to live, live to
eat" philosophy. "Every time you eat something, it affects
you. It gives you energy, nutrition, happiness, sensation, memory, a
new experience. The list is so long," he says. With dining, there
is an inherent respect for the land, water, animals, other people.
"I get asked a lot about food, and I have a hard time giving a
simple answer because food obviously ties into everything that I do
and am," he says.
favorite dishes share one ideal: honesty. "It isnít about
specific dishes, itís more of concept. I love the idea of eating
together with people. Looking back, my dad had a yearly family reunion
where we rented campers and had T-shirts printed," he recalls.
"Maybe thatís why I love doing farm dinners so much; the feel
of great open spaces with everyone being together and relaxed,"
he says. While in Minnesota he organized Tour de Farm, a dinner series
that celebrated local farmers and food artisans.
When he presents
a meal, Pampuch asks his diners to think. He encourages engaging in a
meal, seeing it in a different way. "Every ingredient has a Ďperfectí
way for it to be cooked. How do you get the essence of the ingredient
to come out and reveal itself and become part of a meal? You need to
just cook, you have to cook and cook and cook, over and over. Youíll
make a lot of mistakes, and a lot of bad food. Thatís the only way
youíll learn," he says.
In his mind,
cooking is much more deliberate than being merely a production
process. "Someone asking you to feed them is a lot of
responsibility; you better know what you are doing," Pampuch
says. He gets suggestions all the time, citing the valuable input
provided by hotel owner Tim Dixon, along with his own kitchen crew.
learning about other cooksí tastes and styles. I always enjoy
working with those that love to cook and want to learn and talk about
food all day," Pampuch says. "It all comes together, and
then we have to taste and test it, do more tasting and adjusting, and
then it gets to a menu. Sometimes, ideas come into my head. I make it
once and it is perfect and other times itís like pulling teeth. You
never know," he laughs.