Guilty pleasures from Hell’s Kitchen

Now you can save yourself from dastardly damnation by perusing the downtown eatery’s cookbook. A&E even gleaned a recipe for their ham and pear crisp sandwich.

Guilty pleasures from Hell’s Kitchen

by Kara Nesvig

âÄúDamn Good Food: 157 Recipes from HellâÄôs KitchenâÄù AUTHOR: Mitch Omer, Ann Bauer PUBLISHER: Borealis Books PAGES: 214 PRICE: $27.95 Recipe follows story Mitch Omer is the 6-foot-5-inch force behind downtown MinneapolisâÄô HellâÄôs Kitchen and the man French chef Jacques Pépin says âÄúmakes Anthony Bourdain look like an altar boy.âÄù HeâÄôs struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction and wandered about as a lost soul with a talent for whipping up creative masterpieces in the kitchen. After years of culinary vagabonding, he sought help, got sober and got cooking âÄî and to make a long story short, created one of the best restaurants in Minneapolis. Now, OmerâÄôs story is told in HellâÄôs KitchenâÄôs hotly-anticipated cookbook, âÄúDamn Good Food,âÄù co-written with Ann Bauer, former food critic for âÄúMinnesota MonthlyâÄù and now a close friend of OmerâÄôs. His life story serves as the center of the flurry of recipes that fill up the book. At HellâÄôs Kitchen, the breakfast is breathtaking, the cocktails have more than a kick and the house peanut butter has such a devoted cult following that it gets shipped far and wide, even to Japan . ItâÄôs so popular they thought to add a little hell fire to the frozen tundra that is Duluth by adding a franchise up north. But all praise aside, and there is plenty of praise to be had, itâÄôs not always about the food that arrives at your table but instead the story behind the entrée. Young Omer grew up in Iowa on his motherâÄôs creative (though not always considered âÄúgoodâÄù) cooking and the more pleasurable dishes of his aunt; we get their favorite recipes in the section about his childhood. As he grows up and tours the world as security for rock bands, does meth and PCP, gets clean and diagnosed as bipolar and meets the love of his life, the recipes from those eras of his life accompany the stories. Included in the book are all of HellâÄôs KitchenâÄôs most popular dishes: lemon-ricotta pancakes, the ham and pear crisp sandwich that food critics at Road Tasted named âÄúone of the 10 best sandwiches in AmericaâÄù and even that heartbreakingly good peanut butter. There are dishes suitable for those of us with a skill level of âÄòzeroâÄô and dishes for more seasoned chefs. Like the restaurant itself, the cookbook offers a varied palate. While some recipes require ingredients that the average college kid doesnâÄôt have in their spice cabinet, a majority can be whipped up with things youâÄôve already got or can get easily at Rainbow. The KitchenâÄôs trademark cocktail recipes are also included, and while some, like the Leather Daddy, remain guarded, standouts like their Bloody Mary report for duty. Omer and Bauer splice the cookbook-biography with amusing sections on âÄúsaltpeterâÄù and âÄúLouis, king of the sandwich.âÄù These tidbits, written by Omer, lend another wry layer to the HellâÄôs Kitchen mystique. His closing to a concise (and droll) section on deep-frying admits frankly, âÄúSo there it is, an entire novella, just to cook four frigginâÄô fish fillets. Jesus.âÄù Perky, smiley Giada di Laurentiis , heâÄôs not, but heâÄôs fun. OmerâÄôs story would be book-worthy even sans his successful restaurant. Mitch Omer is a man who has lived a lot of lives, in kitchens and tour buses alike, and heâÄôs got a story to tell. It just so happens he does it best through cuisine. HellâÄôs Kitchen Ham and Pear Crisp Sandwich Ingredients 4 canned pear halves, in heavy syrup 8 slices sourdough bread 1 cup Spiced Butter (recipe included in book), divided 4 (1 ½ ounce) slices Swiss cheese 1 ¼ pounds shaved ham 4 (1 ½ ounce) slices fontina cheese Drain pears, slice thin and set aside. Arrange bread slices on a work surface, and spread each with a thin layer of spiced butter, using about half the butter. Place 1 slice of Swiss cheese on buttered side of 4 of the bread slices and pile one-quarter of the shaved ham on the Swiss slices. Place one-quarter of the pear slices on each ham pile and top pears with 1 slice of the fontina cheese. Place remaining bread slices on the fontina slices, buttered side down, and gently press down to compress sandwiches. Spread remaining half of the spiced butter on tops and bottoms of the sandwiches. Heat a large skillet over medium high. Place sandwiches in skillet and cook approximately 7 minutes or until brown and crisp. Flip sandwiches with a spatula and cook another 7 minutes.