There’s the recipe for Hell’s Kitchen ham and pear crisp — arguably the best sandwich in the city — and the restaurant’s world-famous homemade peanut butter.
Along with those recipes and more than 150 others from Mitch Omer, chef-owner of Hell’s Kitchen, there’s an engaging story about Omer’s battle with mental illness, drug addiction and obesity told by Ann Bauer, a writer and former food editor at Minnesota Monthly who now lives near Seattle, Wash.
Bauer met Omer and his wife Cynthia, who is his business partner and the brains behinds the restaurant’s clever branding, in the fall of 2004. The three became fast friends.
“Sometimes you meet those people who are just authentically a part of your life from the moment they enter it — and that’s how they were,” Bauer said in a recent interview. “It was like I had met my older brother.”
Besides admiring his approach to food, Bauer has come away with an appreciation for many of his other qualities. Though he can be notoriously difficult to deal with at times, she said he inspires her to keep stepping out of her comfort zone.
“He kind of reminds me not to get humdrum and middle aged and stuck into watching the same TV show every week, because there is so much more,” she said.
Besides finding a lot of great recipes from Hell’s Kitchen, his family and his stints at other Minneapolis restaurants (including Pracna on Main and the old New French Café), she hopes readers take away something else from reading Omer’s story.
“I would love for them to come away with what I came away with, which is anything is possible,” she said. “… [Mitch] is someone who lets you know that anything is possible. You can be living in Ely, Minn., hanging out at the bike shop because you’re too heavy to go work anywhere, living in poverty, feeling suicidal and doing drugs and seeing no future. And five years later you can pick yourself up and find a number of solutions and put them all together and be someone else entirely. To me this is a story that it’s never too late.”
Omer said he’s not shy about sharing his struggles over the years. The more open he has been about his mental illness, the more other people have been willing to share their own troubles with him, he said. His mom Annie, a Hell’s Kitchen regular and maker of the restaurant’s cookie brittle, refers to the book as an “expose,” he said.
He is quick to give credit to his wife Cynthia, long-time business partner Steve Meyer and hard-working managers and servers for the restaurant’s success.
Omer also singles out acclaimed chef Jacques Pépin, with whom he studied, as an important mentor in his life.
“He always told me to compensate and adjust,” he said. Besides recipes, the phrase is a good motto for many situations in life.
Pepin had this to say of Omer in promotional materials for the new book: “Mitch Omer’s life makes Anthony Bourdain’s look like he was an altar boy. Mitch’s individualistic, personal and idiosynscratic cooking is that of a man who is larger than life, big-hearted, generous, and wild. It’s evident that he genuinely loves life and nature.”
Where: You can purchase “Damn Good Food,” published by Borealis Books, at Hell’s Kitchen, 80 S. 9th St., and at area bookstores
and online retailers
Hot spots for Halloween
Speaking of Hell’s Kitchen, the restaurant is hosting a special Halloween event called Carnivale of the Bizarre on Oct. 31 featuring the “weird and maniacal” Dr. Tinkerpaw, dark gothic versions of ’80s pop songs, a costume contest and much more. There is no cover for the festivities, which start at 9 p.m.
Down the street, the
W Minneapolis–The Foshay, 821 Marquette Ave., is inviting guests to walk its Red Carpet to Hell on Halloween. The W is giving away thousands of dollars worth of prizes, including a free night stay at the hotel and sports tickets. There will be live music, Halloween cocktails and a costume contest for the following categories: best celeb lookalike, sexiest female, cheesiest male, best diva, cross dresser, drag queen, scariest, tackiest, most creative, best duo and best group. The partying starts at 9 p.m.
At the new Warehouse District hotspot OM, 401 1st Ave. N., there will be a “Ripped from the Headlines” costume contest. The festivities get going at 9 p.m.
Ignite Models Inc. in the North Loop will host a Costumes & Couture Halloween Bash at its studio at 600 Washington Ave. N. Uptown boutique Design Collective will host a runway show featuring fashions by local designers.