Jason DeRusha on the highs and lows of the Twin Cities dining scene

Categories: Interview
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Carly Danek
Introducing our 2013 Iron Fork celebrity judge, Jason DeRusha
Smoked butt. The term conjures images too graphic to display on this blog -- as if food photography weren't pornographic enough -- but there was a time and a place when WCCO's Jason DeRusha couldn't get enough of it.

Actually, it's a cheap, dry piece of pork shoulder that DeRusha's well-meaning mother used to make in the slow cooker. Let's just say his taste buds have matured. He swears he'll never feed it to his family.

"That's my gift to my children," DeRusha says. "Unless they want to. I don't judge. It's a free country. Are we still talking about cuts of meat? I don't know. This maybe took a turn."

See also:
DeRusha celebrates his day

DeRusha will judge the 2013 City Pages Iron Fork competition on November 7, when six culinary masterminds from the Twin Cities will go head to head to create the best dish using a secret ingredient.

DeRusha files a weekly food report for WCCO and just began writing for Mpls/St. Paul Magazine. This week, we caught up with him to talk about his favorite local spots, Andrew Zimmern, and how his palate has changed since the smoked butt days of his youth.


CP: So, finally, this is the take down piece on you --

Jason DeRusha: This is it.'What makes you qualified to judge food?'

That is literally my first question. What are your qualifications as a food critic?

I eat a lot! What are the qualifications of anybody? I'm a journalist and I eat a lot. So I ask a lot of questions. Isn't that enough?

I do think it's interesting that there's an expectation as a food writer that you're some sort of home cook or you must've worked in a restaurant. No one expects a Vikings beat writer to have been a former NFL football player.

Do you cook at home?

Yes, I do cook at home. I made meatloaf last night. This weekend, I made pan-roasted chicken breasts. That was quite successful. One of my first jobs was managing a swimming pool concession stand, so I know a lot about serving Vienna Beef hot dogs and preparing nacho cheese for nacho dip. So I feel like I really bring a lot culinarily to the table.

Any chefs around town you admire?

There are a lot of chefs I admire. I really admire J.D. Fratzke at the Strip Club. His passion, his pursuit of excellence, and he's just a humble guy who grew up in Winona and a very talented chef.

I like Alex Roberts a lot. He is the chef at Restaurant Alma, and he opened Brasa because he wanted a place where the kids could go. Alma is fine dining. Brasa is not. What I dig about Alex is he's so talented but he doesn't seek any publicity at all. I've met him once. I barely know him. But I just admire the people that've gone through his kitchen and just the kind of person he is.

What is the Twin Cities dining scene lacking?

The biggest thing we're lacking is quality service. Service isn't treated as a profession here -- working in a restaurant is seen as a job on your way to something else. Diners haven't been trained to expect service. It's kind of this loop. What's the problem? Do diners not demand good service or restaurants don't provide it? I'm not sure who's to blame.

Let's do a couple rapid fire rounds. Your favorite spot for pizza?


Tie between Black Sheep and Pizza Nea.

Chinese?

Little Szechuan.

Cocktails?

Parlour.

Sushi?

Masu. My eight-year-old son's favorite is that all-you-can-eat-sushi place, Kyoto, in Maple Grove. He eats three times as much sushi as I do. It's unbelievable. And then the six-year-old takes the Sashimi right off the rice. So he'll eat the fish but he really doesn't like the rice. It's like, you kids are weirdos.
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11 comments
theoko
theoko

"The biggest thing we're lacking is quality service. Service isn't treated as a profession here -- working in a restaurant is seen as a job on your way to something else"  Bravo, good sir!  No better answer is possible to this question.  Our service ethic is strikingly insular, unsophisticated and a real anachronism in an otherwise rapidly improving food scene. 

j.reiter
j.reiter

Congrats Jason and Good luck! I look forward to reading your articles.  Your experience with video media could really bring Citypages up to date with their content.  Any plans on food vlogging or providing edited video reports on the site?

JCVN
JCVN

I actually like that this interview confirms how little difference there is between the quality of all Twin Cities food reviewers and their audience—At least he doesn't come off as pretentious as the other local food writers, Dara, et al, who come off as liberal arts majors fluffing up self-important writing.

vinotintojoe
vinotintojoe

"If I've been there and I'm not interested in it or I didn't like it, I won't write about it."

This one sentence explains why you are not a reliable food critic or writer.

robert.moffitt
robert.moffitt

I wonder what's Jason's opinion of deRussian cuisine?

JasonDeRusha
JasonDeRusha

@JCVN I try to write from the perspective of a (perhaps slightly more educated than the average) diner. But most writers in any subject area are not natively experts: tech writers don't write code. Baseball writers don't take part in spring training. For some reason chefs and some diners think food writers should be culinary wizards. It baffles me. Anyway, I try to keep it simple and provide a benefit to the reader.

JasonDeRusha
JasonDeRusha

@vinotintojoe Why's that? I'm curious! There are a lot of mediocre places that are servicable, or good for certain circumstances. Should I write about them all?

vinotintojoe
vinotintojoe

Yes! As a food writer, readers want to hear about the places you have been to...good, bad or so-so.  It is part of why we read these articles or buy the magazines that you do columns in. By stating the comment above, you are not doing your readers a service of informing them of all experiences you have had. If I am trying to decide between going to "ABC restaurant" or "XYZ restaurant" and I am looking for local writers opinions and see that you give one place a decent review and no review on the other place, how are we supposed to know if you have been here and had a terrible food/service etc. experience versus never being there at all? I dont think anyone expects you to do 14 reviews a week or month, but i dont agree with excluding reviews at restaurants because you didnt like them.

savvylush
savvylush

@JasonDeRusha @vinotintojoe If I may, I’d like to contribute to this convo. I’ve been wine blogging for more than a year and I’ve had people request that I write not only about wines I like but about wines I don’t like. So, I wrote a negative review on a wine that you see everywhere but  I just didn’t dig it. To my surprise, I received emails from the winery, wine rep and wine distributor sad and upset stating that I must have had a bad bottle among other excuses. I felt horrible – I wasn’t trying to tell them they’re bad; just their wine didn’t do anything for my palate. I then thought about it differently; here is someone’s art: wine, beer, restaurant, etc. It’s their expression and extension of who they are. It’s personal. I’d never tell Picasso, “I don’t get it; and I don’t like it”.

I completely understand wanting to know where to go, what to do and how to order by reading pro’s and con’s. I’ve now resided in the thought; if there’s no review or much mention about X, then there’s probably a good reason. 

j.reiter
j.reiter

Good luck! I look forward to reading your articles.  Your experience with video media could really bring Citypages up to date with their content.  Any plans on food vlogging or providing edited video reports on the site?

JasonDeRusha
JasonDeRusha

@vinotintojoe I appreciate that perspective and if I were a daily food writer I'd be all on board. When you get 11 cracks at a general audience, I think those times are better spent directing people where TO go. Since no one's paying me to do it daily, I can't do it daily. I consider myself a TV reporter who does food stories/profiles (1st), a freelance writer on food (2nd), a hobby food blogger (3rd) and not a critic.

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