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003 – Chef Lenny Russo Interview – Heartland Restaurant

Chef Lenny Russo – Heartland Restaurant – St. Paul

Chef Lenny Russo Heartland Restaurant 003   Chef Lenny Russo Interview   Heartland Restaurant

Chef Lenny Russo – Heartland Restaurant

Twin Cities chef and restaurant proprietor Lenny Russo is a man of many talents.  The critical success of his St. Paul eatery, Heartland Restaurant is just of many examples to illustrate the passion Chef Lenny Russo pours into his work.  While many chefs channel all of their passion into their food, Russo regularly shows he is passionate about many things.  Chef Lenny Russo is an advocate for many things, some of which are food related and others are not.  In this interview with Chef Lenny Russo for The Chef’s Table Podcast, you hear Russo’s passion for cooking, ingredient sourcing, and other passions outside of the kitchen.

With over three decades of experience in the professional kitchen, Chef Russo has honed his skills and developed a well deserved reputation as a master chef.  Growing up in Florida, Lenny Russo admitted he originally found his way to the restaurant world when he was looking for a job while in school.  Chef Russo admitted that originally he didn’t envision a culinary career while he studied philosophy in college, however the more he worked in the kitchen the more he found himself drawn to the profession.  That spark propelled Chef Lenny Russo down the path to becoming a chef and eventually owning his own restaurant.

Inside and outside of the kitchen, one thing people will tell you about Chef Lenny Russo is that he cares for his fellow citizens.  At every opportunity in his culinary career, Chef Russo has worked to lobby for the importance of ingredient sourcing and the need to support local farmers.  He also works to help deal with childhood obesity and he’s served locally on food literacy programs.  Chef Lenny Russo doesn’t stop being part of the process just with food-related issues.  It may be his undergraduate background in philosophy, but Russo is ready to openly debate and defend his position on a number of topics affecting Americans regularly.

When it comes to food for Chef Lenny Russo that means local, organic, and high quality.  During the interview it was apparent that this philosophy has been a part of Chef Russo’s culinary viewpoint from the very beginning.  Decades before the recent movement to source locally.  Russo shared that in many of his culinary positions earlier in his career it was a challenge to maintain high profit margins for his owners and partners while trying to bring in as many local and organic ingredients as possible, so the chef admitted he was forced to be creative and try to strike a balance between the two.

When it came to opening his own place in St. Paul, he knew he wanted to fully embrace his local philosophy even at the expense of smaller profit margins.  Heartland Restaurant and Heartland’s Farm Direct Market do just that.  You can just surf the internet and view the Heartland menu because it changes daily based on what ingredients are in season and available from local farmers.  This keeps Chef Lenny Russo on his toes and keeps diners come back to check out new and exciting creations.

Russo doesn’t just stop with great, local ingredients in the restaurant.  After operating Heartland Restaurant and showing the Twin Cities community his culinary viewpoint, he began getting requests from customers to acquire many of his ingredients and products for their home kitchen.  To answer their cries, Chef Lenny Russo opened Heartland’s Farm Direct Market.  Russo described the process during the interview and explained that customers at the market get access to the same ingredients used in the restaurant along with sandwiches, fresh baked goods, and charcuterie, jams, sauces and stocks that are all made in-house.  Lenny Russo said the response from the community has been fantastic.

As with all the chefs who are profiled on The Chef’s Table Podcast, Chef Lenny Russo was kind enough to share some wonderful recipes for listeners to recreate some meals with a flavor of Russo’s local and fresh culinary philosophy.

Pan-seared Steelhead Trout

with Shell Pea-Mint Sauce and Roasted Morel Mushroom


For the trout:

6 ea.      four to six ounce steelhead trout filets (salmon is a good substitute)
2 T.         grapeseed oil
2 t.          sea salt
1 t.          white pepper, freshly ground

For the sauce:

1 c.         shell peas, shucked  
2 c.         court-bouillon (see recipe) or low sodium vegetable broth
1 c.         grapeseed oil
½ c.        fresh mint leaves
½ c.        fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 t.          sea salt
½ t.         white pepper, freshly ground

For the mushrooms:

1 c.         fresh morel mushrooms
1 T.      grapeseed oil
½ t.      sea salt
¼ t.      black pepper, freshly ground


Blanch the peas in salted boiling water until tender.  Shock them in an ice water bath, and transfer them to a high speed blender or food processor.  Add the remaining ingredients, and blend them on high speed until smooth and well incorporated.  Set aside. Rub the trout on both sides with grapeseed oil, and season it with the salt and white pepper.  In a hot frying pan, sear the trout on both sides over high heat (about three minutes per side).  Set the trout aside and keep warm.  Meanwhile, toss the morels with the grape seed oil, salt and pepper.  Roast them in a 350° oven until tender (about five minutes).  Warm the pea sauce in a nonreactive pan over low heat.  Spoon 2 oz. of the sauce onto a serving plate.  Top with a few morels, and place the fish on top of the morels.  Serve immediately.


Preparation time:  20 minutes

Serves six. 



2 ea.                      white onion, peeled and diced ¼”
3 ea.                     carrots, peeled and diced ¼”
½ stalk                  celery, peeled and diced ¼”
1 ea.                      medium leek, cleaned and diced ¼”
1 ea.                      garlic bulb, quartered
1 ea.                      bouquet garni consisting of 2 thyme sprigs, 2 marjoram sprigs, 3 parsley sprigs, 1 bay leaf, 5 whole allspice, 10 white peppercorns, 10 black peppercorns and 12 fennel seeds
2 T.                         grape seed oil
1 c.                         dry white wine 


In a stock pot over moderate heat, sweat the vegetables in the grape seed oil until tender.  Add the white wine and the bouquet garni.  Fill the pot with one gallon of cold water, and bring it to a boil over high flame.  Reduce the heat and simmer for two hours skimming intermittently.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer lined with moistened cheese cloth.


Preparation time:  2 ½ hours

Yield:  1 gallon.

Asparagus-Barley Risotto


1 qt.         court-bouillon (see recipe) or low sodium vegetable broth
½ lb.        hulled barley
2 T.          grape seed oil
2 T.          whole unsalted butter
1 ea.        white onion, peeled and diced 1/8”
1 ea.        carrot, peeled and diced 1/8”
2 ribs       celery, peeled and diced 1/8”
1 ea.          garlic clove, minced
1 t.           fine sea salt
½ t.          black pepper, freshly ground
2 c.          asparagus, bias cut and blanched
1 T.          fresh thymes leaves
¼ c.         good quality parmesan cheese, grated


Bring the stock to a slow simmer in a nonreactive pot.  Meanwhile, heat the grape seed oil in a shallow braising pan or sauce pan over medium low heat.  Add the vegetables, and lightly sauté until tender.  Add the barley, and season it with the salt and pepper.  Sauté the barley with the vegetables until it begins to change color.  Stir occasionally using a wooden spoon.  This is called pearlizing.  Once the barley is pearlized, slowly add the stock using a four ounce ladle.  Continue to stir the barley as you add the stock.  Allow the stock to become completely absorbed before adding another ladleful.  Repeat this process until all of the stock is used.  The barley should be tender but not soft.  Add the asparagus and the thyme, and remove the risotto from the heat.  Continue to stir gently until the asparagus is warmed through.   Gently stir in the butter and the cheese, and adjust for salt and pepper if necessary.  This dish may be served as an accompaniment for chicken or fish or may be served as a vegetarian entrée.


Preparation time:  30 minutes

Yield:  6-8 servings

Apricot Mustard


1 c.         mustard seeds
1 c.         mustard powder 
2 c.         water
3 c.         apple cider vinegar
6 T.         wildflower honey
6 T.         sorghum syrup
2 T.         garlic, chopped
6 T.         shallots, chopped
1 T.         black pepper, freshly ground
½ t.         ground allspice
1 t.          ground cinnamon
¼ t.         ground cloves
1 t.          ground mace
1 t.          fine sea salt
1 pt.       apricot purée 


Bring the water to boil in a nonreactive sauce pot.  Add the mustard seeds and mustard powder.  Reduce to medium heat, and add the remaining ingredients except for the apricot purée. Transfer the mustard to a blender, and add the apricot purée.  Purée until smooth.


Preparation time:  40 minutes

Yield:  Approximately 1 qt.


As always we thank you for listening to the show.  Feel free to contact us with your comments and feedback using the contact form on our site.  You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.  Our weekly podcast is available for download on iTunes where you can also subscribe to automatically receive each new episode so you never miss a show.  If you liked what you heard then please consider leaving us a rating and review on iTunes.  Until next time…Cook.  Devour.  Be Well!

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