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Hangin’ With Klecko: At the Turf Club with J.D. Fratzke

Not that it matters, but did I ever tell you guys that I host a monthly night club show in The Clown Lounge at The Turf Club?

I am fortunate to present many of Minnesota’s premiere writers in unusual showcases, such as …

Happy Birthday Jim Morrison

Alien Abduction Open Mic

Charles Bukowski Tribute

At my most recent show, I decided to swing a vine toward legendary chef J.D. Fratzke. Like most of you, I heard that he had taken some time off to write and figured maybe he’d enjoy a platform. He signed on, but on the night of our event, close to a foot of snow fell and three of my seven acts bailed.

In show biz we have a practical mantra: The show must go on, and it did.

To be honest, things were quiet as people filed in and brushed snow off their coats. Things were calm until J.D. came down the staircase and a young woman made her way over to let him know recently she sat on an airplane next to his parents who spent hours in the air gushing over their son. Everyone in the room drew closer to get details.

Once again, J.D. Fratzke saved the evening. 

After the show concluded, I went over to J.D.’s booth and asked him if he wanted to do a Foodservice News interview and he obliged.

Klecko:  Why open a place in Cannon Falls?

J.D.: I’ve been driving over the Cannon River on Highways 61 and 53 for as long as I can remember. It’s a beautiful spot and the flowage drains into the Mississippi River. I love the idea of being able to cook and serve food to the people who are doing the hard work of growing and transporting the goods I’ve been fortunate enough to cook in St. Paul and Minneapolis restaurants for the past 25 years.

Klecko:  When the media reported you were taking time off to spend with your family, and write, I was curious. What did you want to write about?

J.D.: Before I washed out of college, I was trying to earn a journalism degree so I could become a war correspondent. Cooking taught me how to channel all the artistic endeavors at which I’d failed into flavor on a plate. So over the years those voices inside me that I’d previously been turning into words became food.

Klecko: Who do you read?

J.D.: Jim Harrison, Charles Fraizer, Issa, Ikkyu, Peter Geye, Louise Erdrich, Hermann Hesse, Hendrich Boll and David O’Meara.

Klecko: I’ve tried to style my writing after Hemingway. Is there an author in particular who has helped you find your voice?

J.D.: Jim Harrison, without question. The zen poets Ikkyu and Kobayashi Issa, and of course, Anthony Bourdain.

Klecko: I’ve seen pictures of you as a younger man. You were a skate punk who lived on the streets, but recently I heard you’ve been spending time in the wilderness.

J.D.: I was brought up a river kid in Winona County, discovered skating and all the music, danger and culture that came along with it at the age of 12. I continued to hunt with my family and swim competitively throughout my teenage years, but skating, writing and rock and roll filled at least three chambers of my heart.

I didn’t have room for much else. Kitchens were an easy transition from when I moved up here and had to fend for myself. It was a way to pay rent, get fed while working in a loud individualistic, competitive camaraderie, just like music. Over the course of a couple decades, it began to dawn on me that there was a huge disconnect between the exclusively urban pursuit of high-end restaurant cooking and its basic, ancient origins over wilderness campfires.

The more time I spent outside, the more it felt like the real world and the real me. I began to realize that in addition to all the peripheral perks that come along with restaurant kitchens, they had also been an escape from myself, what I was feeling and the necessity of connecting with the world at large. Not just the world of barkeeps, servers and line cooks. I’ve found that wilderness and natural beauty are not only incredibly healing and restorative in all their silence and slowness, but they insist that we really feel our own hearts. Restaurant people deal with so much noise, so much high stress, shift after shift, after shift.

We often disconnect with the desire to slow down and celebrate silence. We forget how therapeutic Cherokee Mounds or Minnehaha Park can be. Much less a drive to Afton or the BWCAW. We are so fortunate in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota to have such easy access to quietude and restorative natural beauty. We all need help; oftentimes restaurant people more than others. Mother Nature is there for us the way a therapist or professional counselor can be. She is also far less expensive, far more accessible, and doesn’t charge by the hour, or check her watch when you’re in the middle of a breakthrough.

Klecko: The best thing you ever cooked for me was Swedish meatballs in lavender. They were beyond perfect. Now that you’re getting a little older, how often do people approach you to tell you about the food you’ve made them?

J.D.: That means a lot to me, Klecko. Thank you, brother. I guess I’m fortunate enough to still hear that from time to time, though I love even more to see that praise going right past me and to the line cooks banging it out in the kitchen.

Klecko: I was in the second row at the Pantages Theater when you won the Charlie’s award for Chef of the Year. Do you still have it, and if so, where is it?”

J.D.: My head is still spinning over that one. Yes, I have it. Of course, it was such an honor. My dad was so proud of me he made a wood and glass box for it and it sits on a bookshelf in my study holding up a copy of Yvon Chouinard’s ‘Let My People Go Surfing.’

Klecko: I am on the Eastside every day, and at least once a week somebody will mention your name with reverence. They feel like you put the neighborhood on the map. I’m not kidding, they talk about you all the time. That’s got to make you feel good.

J.D.: That’s pretty humbling. I loved The Strip Club Meat and Fish and I gave it everything I had for 10 years. None of that would have mattered if the Eastside hadn’t felt like we belonged there. Tim Niver made a brave and brilliant decision to plant his flag on Sixth and Maria.

Klecko: Where will you be 10 years from now?

J.D.: Anywhere Lisa Anderson Fratzke lets me be. She and Nina Jeann are the adventure I want to keep having.

Klecko: Are you happy?

J.D.: Are you kidding? You asked me to hang out with you and talk s***. I’m on cloud nine.

Until next time….


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