Michael Lipcamon got his start smoking meat early, helping his grandfather, Amos Dean. Dean was a butcher at Wilson & Co. meatpacking plant and ran an underground smoked meat business for family and friends from his home.
“I started when I was really young,” Lipcamon said.
When Dean’s health started declining, Lipcamon left a culinary career on the East Coast and moved back to Iowa to help care for his grandfather. He moved in with Dean and started fixing up the old farmhouse just outside Solon. The idea for a catering and food truck business was born.
He installed an industrial kitchen in the home’s basement to complement the backyard meat smoker, built a food truck, and last May started serving food from a tent at area farmers markets, along with business partner Greg Hauck. The food truck started rolling this summer.
He named the business Amos Dean’s, in honor of his grandfather, who now lives at a care center in Solon.
Lipcamon still lives in the family farmhouse, and he’s taken advantage of the rural setting to grow produce for the business. He and Hauck not only run the catering and food truck side, they cultivate a two-third-acre garden filled with greens, herbs, tomatoes, peppers and other produce.
Hauck and Lipcamon grew up together; they were neighbors as children and roommates in college, before both working in the restaurant industry in Boston and other cities.
What they grow leads to what they cook, and vice versa.
“We plant things specifically for what we want for our menus,” Lipcamon said. “When the kale is ready, we put the greens on the menu.”
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That would be their summer and fall menu item of charred greens with local seasonal vegetables, ponzu, Parmesan and crispy shallots. Other summer menu staples include smoked brisket and smoked barbecue pork sandwiches, green chili pork tacos, kielbasa sausages and elote — grilled sweet corn with lime crema, cotija cheese and tajin.
They adjust their offerings as the season changes. They can’t grow everything they need, so they also work with other area farmers as much as possible.
“It’s definitely a big challenge as a chef to work that way,” Lipcamon said. “Our menu is based around things like when farmers have a bumper crops of something — we’ll buy it, and then our menu changes.”
On a recent summer day he finished off 300 pounds of brisket before loading in a batch of bacon. The bacon cures 10 days before smoking for two days over cherry and apple wood. The grill they take on the road to finish their meals also uses wood, usually oak and hickory.
The house and gardens sit on about 6 acres, including woods, where the duo envision adding mushroom and berry production. They also would like to start raising their own hogs; they now source their pork from a farmer in Washington.
Gardening is a fairly new addition to his skill set, Lipcamon said, but one that makes perfect sense for a chef.
“When I came back here, I said, ‘Wow, you can literally grow everything here,’ ” he said.
“It’s important for us that people know the quality of the ingredients here in Iowa are higher than anywhere else,” he said.
If you go
• What: Amos Dean’s
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• Where and when: Look for the food truck at the North Liberty Blues & BBQ on Saturday and at Market After Dark in downtown Cedar Rapids on Aug. 25. They also may be at some Food Truck Wednesdays at NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids; Science Thursdays at the Bowen Science Building courtyard, 51 Newton Rd., Iowa City; Food Truck Fridays in Greene Square, Cedar Rapids and Downtown Cedar Rapids Farmers’ Markets.
• Details: (319) 321-7779, amosdeans.com
l Comments: (319) 398-8339; firstname.lastname@example.org