Thursday, August 25, 2011

State Fair Day #1 - Lee Svitak Dean's Spaetzle Recipe

When the tenured host of a demo kitchen enters the Fairgrounds on day one, I'll bet it's a lot like being a marathon runner who approaches the starting line.

I've completed this course numerous times, and have no reason to believe I won't this year, but in the same breath I know that I will have to pass through at least a few levels of Dante's Hell before I cross the finish line and have a fresh laurel placed upon my head.

Each year promises to offer new challenges, and situations that simply don't jive with a middle aged guy who is anal and only feels comfortable while working within controlled systems, but if you are going to survive working an entire Fair, you simply have to learn to adapt.

A guy just has to come to terms with the fact that people will use their I-phones while utilizing the urinal, people will continue to use my perimeter counter space to discard their trash, even though there will be a dozen garbage cans within 20 yards.

Some of my employees will be tardy, and some of my "celebrity guests" will stiff me, forcing me into the awkwardness of an impromptu baking demo.

The Fair is also an outlet for every person with open hands to grab-grab-grab at their entitlement.

My friends at the Strib were handing out free Ketchup or Mustard lip balm, and after the throngs wiped out wave #1 of these goodies, the masses had to be informed that the next shipment wouldn't come in until 4 p.m.

Yep, like a Christ multitude, the populace hung out for over an hour. I get it if they are going to get loaves of bread and fish, but a condiment chap stick...really?

I decided to go in early, about 1 1/2 hours before the public were allowed into my building. This way I could cruise the Creative Activities and its adjoining annex.

Clean your wedding ring for a quarter guy was gone. His family had that booth for 60 some years. The 2 good ol' gals from Texas who sold armadillos made out of beer cans, and chihuahua salt & pepper shakers, well..... they were gone as well.

Now what will Sue McGleno get for her birthday?

Every year at the Fair is basically the same, but yet every year some major traditions fade away in silence if you don't take time to observe.

Now I popped a Diet Coke and sat in the bleachers where thousands of people will come and watch the 48 shows that I will be hosting.

I've always tried to observe the last moment of silence. I don't know why I hold it so sacred....its not like you can sell it on E-Bay, but none the less, it is important to me to start off in a reverent mood.

3-2-1......the doors open and hoards of baking competitors flood my space to see how they fared in the bake off.

Klecko watches and smiles.

Like most of the Fairs I have hosted, Kim Ode will be my first guest.

Today she is going to do a Norwegian rhubarb cake presentation.

Kim Ode is kinda like a baking lightening rod. People get into their cars and drive across state lines to hear whatever it is that she thinks is pertinent.

While she organizes her ingredients, the 2 of us are uncommonly quiet. I looked out into the audience and an older gentleman is reading her banana bread recipe that was run in the weekly TASTE section.

The recipe was her Grandmothers from South Dakota, and I smiled knowing how thrilled she must have been to share a family heirloom with her entire state on such a special day.

For bakers, the first day of the Fair is like Christmas morning. Everybody rushes around the building celebrating their blue ribbons, or bemoaning the fact that once again...the judges just didn't get it right.

At this point I started to realize that at this exact moment I, or Kim and me, are really no longer a novelty to this event, we are part of its fabric. Even if we ran off to a far away igloo, our participation in this event would at least warrant a chapter in a book, or maybe our toils would inspire some eccentric artist to commission some kind of cookie dough statue of us.

As usual, Kim takes the stage, and within moments, I felt like I was peeking over the shoulder of the Pope while he does Pope stuff on that Vatican balcony. Directly in front of me I see an ocean of smiles and I instantly locked this visual into my mental vault.

Have you ever had a moment like that with somebody who is special to you, a moment that you are so grateful to be a part of, but then you kinda get afraid to address it, because you know that no matter what you say, it won't capture the vibe and you'll just come across as a bigger idiot than you already are?

I kept my mouth shut.

As usual.....Kim crushed. I think she ended up giving out recipes cards for 30 minute after her microphone was shut off.

But the real star of the day, and probably the entire Fair (at least in my book) is Kim's colleague Lee Svitak Dean.

Lee is the editor of the TASTE section in the Strib.

I have done shows with Lee in the past, and I have also gone and watched her speak when she went on the road promoting cook books.

As an editor of such a reputable rag, you'd expect her to be good, but I gotta tell she was phenomenal.

Sure, we only knocked out 4 shows today, and there are 44 to go, but you have to remember, Klecko have sat through 500 of these things.

I'm willing to bet that her presentation will win the Klecko Gold Star for the best of the 48 presentations.

Lee did a spaetzle show that had people literally sitting on the edge of their seats.

Often times a guest will take a concept and show you one way to achieve its desired effect, but today our cities premiere editor strutted into my kitchen with 3 backpacks containing items that looked like those "Implements of Destruction" that I saw from the Chicago Museum of Whatever.

You know, they looked like torture weapons from the kings dungeon.

There was a spaetzle maker, potato ricer and who know what else.

The best way to know how well your presenter is doing is simple....just stare into the eyes of the audience.

Throughout the entire show people continued nodding their heads in approval, in fact, it almost got creepy, I thought I had stumbled into some kind of Bobblehead Nation.

In the Midwest, there are 2 surefire ways to kill a cooking demo.

#1 Read A Poem

#2 Ask Anybody If They Have A Question

Typically if you do the latter.........CRICKETS!

People in Minnesota don't like to speak over crowds, but turn the microphone off and watch out for a stampede.

Bing-Bang-Boom......the audience broke precedence by asking another question before Lee could finish the previous one.

But for me....the coolest part of it was that it appeared she was really having fun.

Nobody deserves it more than her. She spends countless hours steering our cities culinary trends and I'll bet her rewards a sparse compared to the thought and energy she puts into it.

Well.....Klecko needs to wake back up in a couple of hours, so let an old baker type up Lee Svitak Deans Spaetzle recipe.

3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon (or more) water


In a medium bowl mix your flour,salt and nutmeg. In a large bowl beat eggs until foamy: mix in milk. Add flour mixture to egg mixture a little at a time.

Add 1 tablespoon water and mix batter well.

Bring water to a boil in a large-wide kettle. Place a colander with large holes over the boiling water. add the batter and press through the holes. The spaetzel will drop into the boiling water where you will let it cook for 2-3 minutes.

Spaetzle will rise to the surface when it is done

This is w/o a doubt one of the best side dishes ever.

Rumor has it that Lee likes hers with butter, where Klecko has been known to top his with gravy.


  1. Lee Svitak Dean, my Taste boss and Strib colleague, nailed it yesterday, just as you've nailed your description of the event. Thanks to you for hosting such a terrific stage year after year!

  2. Absolutely fantastic article! I was there at the fairgrounds with you, smelling the smells and feeling the morning cool before the heat of the day hits.

  3. Jane, isn't it simply the best?