When I pick up a sample of salsa at the market on Sundays, vendors often mention something about offering a “Minnesota Mild” flavor, referring to the stereotypically “wimpy” Minnesotan taste buds. It’s true, many of us can’t take the heat. In fact, a critic for the San Francisco Chronicle reviewed a dish as being “bland enough to appeal to a Midwest tourist.” While it’s easy to pass off Midwest preferences for mildness as bland or inferior, comparisons do little to tell the story of Minnesota food.
In the Twin Cities local food scene, there are many things that we aren’t. We aren’t always a French omelette, or a green curry that makes you sweat. But the idea that we “aren’t” something, doesn’t mean we’re lacking it; just because something isn’t spicy or exotic doesn’t mean it can’t challenge the status quo. That Midwest mildness can taste good, but a different kind of good than a perfect hollandaise. Taste my dad’s creamy wild rice soup an
d try to replicate that hearty “Minnesota bland” experience in New York - you can’t. Sometimes, but not always, the cream beats the kick, and when it doesn’t beat it, it’s still pretty damn good. It's not about making a dish that satisfies certain culinary criteria, challenges the status quo of spice or impresses a board of connoisseurs. Instead, it's the desire to satisfy that characterizes a midwest food culture. It's MN Nice manifested - making a dish with an audience's preferences in mind instead of telling people how food should taste. This sensitivity and approachability, not perfection or pretentiousness, characterizes a dining scene and set of preferences that put the Twin Cities on the map.
Minnesota’s “mild” tendencies don’t mean we’re missing something. Instead of focusing on what we aren’t, it’s time to move past the comparisons. Many Twin Cities chefs are asking - what is food to us, in our context? The answer, or many answers, to that question gets at the heart of our local food scene. The acknowledgment of each of our own contexts, and the desire to share them with others, tells the story of food in our community. It’s a lot more than flavor, it's a conversation with every aspect of food from beginning to end - and not just of the food itself. It's the farmer who grows it, the immigrant who misses a dish from home, the creamy potato soup that keeps us warm in the winter. The mild is, in fact, nothing but mild, but a part of a greater story of Minnesota taste. And to those connoisseurs that pass off a Minnesotan palette as “mild”, well, don’t stop them from biting into a Jucy Lucy, "just beef and cheese", without letting it cool off. See what that does for their heat tolerance.