Food & Drink

Local connections: New Pi chef enjoys working with farmers

Kitchen Window | Meet the people behind your food and drink

Craig Trembath adds bananas to the bin for Co-op Explorers at New Pioneer's Co-op Café inside the Coralville Public Library in Coralville on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Co-op Explorers, which is for kids 12 and under, receive a free banana when they present their Co-op Explorers card at a location. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Craig Trembath adds bananas to the bin for Co-op Explorers at New Pioneer's Co-op Café inside the Coralville Public Library in Coralville on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Co-op Explorers, which is for kids 12 and under, receive a free banana when they present their Co-op Explorers card at a location. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Who: Deli lead Craig Trembath, 35, of Cedar Rapids

Where: New Pioneer Co-op, 1101 Second St., Coralville

Q: What you do?

A: I’m the deli lead, the meat and seafood lead, the Co-op Cafe lead and the catering liaison or lead. I’m in charge of all things prepared food, all things meat and seafood, I manage our new team at the Co-op cafe in the Coralville Public Library, and I coordinate catering for the entire organization. I’m based at the Coralville store.

Q: How do you balance all of that?

A: I just trying to be as organized as possible and try to delegate tasks out to build some future leaders within the organization. I try to surround myself with some great people.

Q: Are you doing anything different for this new Co-op Cafe concept?

A: If you’re used to shopping at New Pioneer, it will be very similar. We’re offering sandwiches, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. We have all the different coffee drinks, made from scratch pastries every morning and smoothies or to-go beverages ... We have a full espresso menu, lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos, all the Os.

Q: How did you get into this field?

A: I got into the food industry about 15 years ago, and about 10 of those have been spent in the grocery industry. I was a struggling college student, and I got a job at a brewery flipping burgers, and I kind of just fell in love with it. It kind of challenged me mentally and physically, and it was very rewarding work, and I met some amazing people along the way.

Then in 2009 I got a job with Whole Foods in Milwaukee. I kind of traveled the Midwest working for different stores, and doing off-site catering for them and their global team around the country. It totally rejuvenated my love of food and my love of travel and love of meeting new people and being out of my element. About a year and half ago my wife and I moved back to Iowa, where she’s from, to be a little closer to family ... That brought me to New Pioneer.

Q: What are challenges of the job?

A: My biggest challenges, and these are all positive challenges, are just working with a variety of different people. I feel like I’m the kind of guy who can get along with everybody. And it’s always a high stress environment, so being able to deal with the stress is the mental part. Trying to remember everything and organize and prioritize; that’s kind of the life of a food industry lead or a chef.

Q: What do you enjoy about it?

A: There’s definitely some creative freedom there, which I really like. One of my favorite things about working at the Co-op is we’re working with over 140 local producers. Yes, I develop recipes and stuff like that, but I like to see what excites the growers and the farmers and what they’re bringing to the table. They come in and get to know you and shake your hands and they ask about your kid ... that’s one of the most rewarding parts of it ... Being able to connect with the people who are growing your food is a whole new game. A chef once told me, too, growing your own food is like printing your own money.

Q: Where can we find you when you’re not at work?

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A: I have a side business, Knotty Grains, make chef-inspired cutting boards. In the chef world and the food industry it’s not outrageous to have a knife you spent a couple hundred dollars on. Everybody’s got all this kitchen equipment, but we’re all cutting on the same crappy plastic cutting boards. I’ve taken what the Co-op has taught me about working with local producers, and I work with a couple different saw mills and lumber mills to source Iowa wood. I want to create something that inspires someone in the kitchen. Getting that new piece of kitchen equipment or that new knife or a new cutting board will inspire how many different meals?

 

Recipe: Portuguese green soup with sausage

Linguisa (or linguiça) is a Portuguese sausage seasoned with garlic and paprika, made in-house with local, humanely-raised pork at New Pi. Linguisa or Berbere Ethiopian-spiced New Pi sausages will work well in this recipe. They also make great meatballs (toss with pasta and a simple marinara sauce or olive oil, fresh Parmesan, a dash of cream, and optional mushrooms and/or shallots) or as burger sliders (some picky kids love Berbere sliders, as they’re slightly sweet and not very spicy).

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 bunch collard greens, without stems, thinly sliced
  • 4 linguisa (or Berbere or even Thai Curry) New Pi house-made sausages, cut into ½-inch rounds
  • 5 ¾ cups chicken broth
  • 1 ¾ pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
  • salt to taste
  • lemon wedges to serve (optional)

Have a food processor or blender ready. Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high. Add garlic and onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add collards (optional: reserve a handful of them and add in the last 5 minutes of cooking for fresh color) and sauté until wilted, about 4 minutes. Add sausage and sauté about another five minutes, then add the broth (it will deglaze the pan and incorporate all the nice fond — the caramelization in the bottom of the pan) and potatoes. Simmer uncovered until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer 2 cups (without sausage) to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Return to pot, bring to a simmer, and add optional crushed red pepper. Season to taste. Serve with optional lemon wedges and enjoy.

Source: Craig Trembath, adapted from Bon Appétit, Nov. 2004

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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