A popular song after World War I expressed the fear that young men would never come back to rural American towns after seeing the sights in Europe. “And how ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?” it asked.
That’s hardly a problem for Brian Strom. As a professional chef, he’s traveled the globe, cooking at the Olympics, the Masters (Golf Tournament) and for Cirque Du Soleil. If he’s learned anything – and rest assured he’s learned a lot – it’s that there’s nothing better than life on the farm.
The mealtime in a rural community is different from mealtime in an urban center.Chef Brian Strom
He should know. Brian grew up in Austin, Minn., surrounded by friends and family who worked the land or were involved in other aspects of agriculture. His father, for example, spent his 40-year career at nearby Hormel Foods, which has always been close to farms large and small. To this day, his son can conjure up the scent of bacon curing. “It would fill the air,” he said.
His was a closely knit community, Brian recalled. In many ways, Austin and other agricultural towns still are. “Folks … care about each other” and big extended families crowd around kitchen tables for meals. “The mealtime in a rural community is different from mealtime in an urban center,” he said, comparing it to a scene from Norman Rockwell. Immediately you get it.
Those kinds of memories and modern-day passions made Brian the ideal chef for the latest episode of “Cooking & Culture,” the Hormel Foods video series that celebrates diversity through food. He partnered with members of the company’s H-FARM employee resource group, which seeks to strengthen connections between the people who bring forth food from the land and the products that bear the name of the 128-year-old company.
No Turning Back
So does Brian, making it a point to support local growers whenever he can. It’s hardly a sacrifice. There’s nothing like in-season ingredients from someone you know, he said, pausing to taste the flavors in his head, a special talent he stumbled on early in his nearly 20 years as a chef. If nothing else, the realization of his super power validated his abandoning his studies at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he stood up in the middle of a 100-level economics course, surveyed the lecture hall and made his way to the registrar’s office to drop all of his classes. His parents didn’t speak to him for a week. They’ve since come around, needless to say.
Within four months, he was enrolled in the Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, Fla., where a noted chef invested in Brian’s culinary spark and taught him the business side of the industry as well. While he was there, he experienced a meal of pumpkin-seed-crusted Chilean sea bass in a student-run restaurant. It had “smoky, salty, sweet, sour, everything delivered at once, and that was it,” Brian said. There was no turning back. “It was probably at that point that I said to myself, ‘How do I do that?’”
The path rose up to meet him “fast,” he recounted. The next thing he knew, he was cooking at the Torino and Beijing Olympic Games, among other world-renowned events. These days, he stands at the helm of Arizona Catering with a long list of credentials, travel and upscale culinary events to his credit.
Nevertheless, he’s unapologetic about his love of small at-home meals with friends. Conversation and laughter can make just about any meal great, he insisted. Plus, he’s a sucker for the instant gratification that comes when he holds up his end of the bargain and delivers a showstopper.
His bio is impressive, earning him a well-deserved following. And though it doesn’t mention France by name, this much is certain: There’s no problem keeping this chef down on the farm.