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Big River Bread & Breakfast is now open

Big River Bread & Breakfast chef, Joel London is excited to be open for business and looking forward to a busy summer. (Nicole Vik/Enterprise)

No longer being the Schwarzwald Inn, Big River Bread & Breakfast officially opened its doors in early May. The beloved train had to be shut off because there was a derailment but that in no way has been an omen for the new restaurateurs.

Joel London was the first chef at The Good Life Café in Park Rapids when it first opened and now he’s back at the helm for owner Molly Luther’s latest endeavor.

In the early stages of discussion the idea started as a bakery, but leasing the Schwarzwald meant too much kitchen and dining space to not take full advantage of the space.

They decided to  provide a full breakfast menu and offer baked goods  such as cookies, specialty breads and decadent treats to go.

For London the basics of cooking were promoted in culinary school. He was taught how to learn the trait, to be choosy about where he worked and start at the bottom in order to work hard to learn the skills necessary to be a good chef.

London has a lot of fresh ideas; quite literally. His philosophy is all about cleaner eating with a local injection and a minimal energy input.

"Having a philosophy and a moral standard is part of the reason why some people will appreciate your product," he says.

While trying to explain his approach to cooking London expresses "I have a really hard time with the word organic."

To him he feels that the "organic movement" is "completely corrupt" and more of a "niche" in order to charge more for a product.

"We have been tricked into thinking that’s worth more money," he explained. "It’s ridiculous, it makes me very upset."

The flour used at Big River is all "organic" but what’s more important to London is that it comes from Minnesota.

He chooses to use a supplier two hours north of Park Rapids, and all of their suppliers are within five hours of them by truck.

"It’s very local and I can get it here, with the total energy input being pretty minimal," he said. "The energy input, the nutrition and the flavor, those are the things that really matter.

"What we need to do is recognize the things that have developed in our own culture."

London plans to reach out to local self-sustainable farms. To him using the things available here is a beautiful thing, "that’s the way it should be," he says

"I don’t really care what you’re growing, just bring me whatever you’ve got because I can use that," London explains about making connections with local farmers. "That’s where you have this farm to table movement. The problem is that the restaurants are telling the farmers what to grow instead of using what the farmers can grow.

"If as an organization we can talk to these people and learn about what they actually do and use those products to their full extent that’s when we start getting into the flavors and the understanding of what it means to eat here in Minnesota. Because we can’t fully understand our own minds and culture if we’re just importing everything from everywhere else."

London has a lot of excitement for this opportunity, he’s unsure whether or not his approach will be entirely received but to him it’s an excellent opportunity.

"Taste and flavor and texture are very subjective," London said about  the reaction of others. "To please everyone is quite literally impossible but to make an excellent product that most people enjoy is possible."

According to both Luther and London there has been a lot of positive feedback and most of the negative feedback has been helpful.

"I’m still very much revising and I probably will be for the rest of the summer," London said about making adjustments based on customer input. "There are always things that are constantly improving and changing."

According to Luther, opening a restaurant isn’t as easy as it may seem. "We’re still figuring a few things out," she explained.

But she says business has been good, "Weekends are pretty awesome, the church crowd is very big, this weekend we had a line out the door.

"We have lots of tables that are pairing up, people meeting each other, making new friends," she said about customers being able to seat themselves.

According to London, in the future there are possibilities that they may become more of a bakery and they may start producing more "proper bakery stuff, a few sweet things and a few specialty breads," he said.

For now, London continues to build his menu. Rather than being wasteful, he prefers a traditional approach; to use every part of the product. Such as using bones to make stock, "there is no reason to throw things away when there’s so much flavor to be had.

"You can make a product that is a true expression of the flavors that those things are while respecting the life of that animal that you are using," he said.

Giving them the opportunity to reintroduce techniques that may have been forgotten "It’s not that it was ever gone it’s just not common," London explained

London’s main concern is for patrons to be comfortable eating what they’re producing at the restaurant simply because they like the flavor not because they care about where it came from or what it is.

"That’s what I care about, I’m not doing this to get rich." London feels strongly that being a chef is not about recognition or glory, he just wants to make good food for people and provide enjoyment.

"What I hope is that when they taste the food, it may not be some great epiphany but that they think ‘this is nice.’"