Interview with the Chefs
On a snowy afternoon in February, I visited The Watershed Café for a behind-the-scenes interview with the three young men that make up the kitchen crew essential to the restaurant’s success. Despite the wintery mix outside, inside The Watershed Café is warm, vibrant, and a hub of activity. It’s just after the lunch rush; the crew is bustling to get the final orders out and begin their closing tasks. For a moment, Eli, Joe, and Carter can sit down with me to discuss their character and their critical roles at The Watershed Café.
Eli Rasmuson, the oldest son of restaurant owners Steve and Rita Rasmuson, is quiet and serious. Yet, he shares his insight and passion about good food with easy, good-natured confidence. Eli wears many hats at The Watershed Café. In addition to his role as a chef, he collaborates with Steve and Rita about dinner specials, makes purchasing decisions, and executes the plan during the night shift. “My main role is to manage the evening meals, making sure everything is prepared according to our restaurant values and putting out excellent food knowing that our customers are enjoying their experience,” Eli says. “Also, a new step for me is talking to our farmers and our suppliers about local and sustainable sources available for our menu.”
For a young Millennial, Eli has an incredible amount of culinary experience. More than half of his life has been spent working in a restaurant. “I’m going on my tenth year of working in a kitchen,” Eli explains. “Being able to work since the age of 12 has given me more experience than most people, which is something I’m really proud of. It’s given me a lot of life skills, customer knowledge, and the ability to understand all of the processes.”
In addition to his culinary skill, Eli studied horticulture and plant science at the University of Minnesota. Through his studies, he has a deep appreciation for the process of preparing food from start to finish. He also has a passion for locally grown produce and pasture-raised products. “With my horticulture education, I gained a better understanding of the whole spectrum of farm to table,” Eli says. “I use my education to communicate with local food producers. I have the background to know the best questions to ask, to make sure everything is sustainably grown – not necessarily organic, but ensuring that everything is grown using environmentally sound methods.”
Eli’s culinary skills and educational background gives him the edge he needs to focus on creating unique dishes using locally sourced, sustainable foods. “We do our best to be as farm to table as possible,” explains Eli. “It’s a little harder in the winter months, as local produce isn’t as readily available. To overcome this issue, we work with our CSAs to provide us with winter produce, and we really focus on seasonal dishes to best use the produce that is available in our area.”
When I asked Eli what he enjoys most about at The Watershed Café, his eyes light up and he says, “I’m so amazed at how much we’ve accomplished in the almost-three years we’ve been here. It’s crazy how busy we’ve been!” He went to say, “I really want people to understand what we do here. People may think we are just another restaurant, but we are so much more. We try to use local products available to us year-round, using local farms and local meats. We have such a beautiful location, right on the falls, right in the St. Croix River Valley. We have so much accessible to us. It’s wonderful to see our growth."
In a flurry of activity, Eli is called back to duty and Joe takes his place in the hot seat. Joseph Richard Fiedler, known as Joseph or Joe, is a tall and lanky fellow with seemingly limitless energy and enthusiasm. He explains that he’s been working with The Watershed Café for about a year. In the kitchen, he is quick, efficient, and constantly moving – chopping vegetables and preparing each of the menu items. “I’m a very hands-on learner,” Joe says. “Watching everything being made and being a part of the process is very beneficial for me.” As he gains more hands-on training, his passion and knowledge of the culinary arts continues to expand. “I really enjoy the art of food,” Joe explains. “It’s all about the presentation. I can express myself through creating different dishes.”
Joe was a business major at Winona State University when The Watershed Café was first established. With his interest in business, the new restaurant appealed to him. When he saw the local, sustainable restaurant model thrive, he was excited to become a part of the team and learn a hands-on skill. “I liked that the restaurant was starting something new, creating something new for others to enjoy. I really enjoy seeing the people come in, seeing this place flourish, and seeing the St. Croix River Valley come alive,” Joe says with a kind grin. “I like knowing where all of our food is coming from and learning to use in-season foods to create meals.”
As our conversation stills, several things happen at once: Joe stands to depart, Eli comes over to ask a question, and Carter Rasmuson joins us with an ear-to-ear smile. The siblings engage in a moment of brotherly banter, and Carter takes the seat in front of me. His happy-go-lucky character is infectious, and I find it’s easy to laugh with him. At age 17, Carter is Steve and Rita’s youngest son. He truly enjoys working at the family’s restaurant. “This is like my second home,” Carter says with a grin. “It’s like an extended version of my kitchen. I go home to sleep, and I come here to eat,” he jokes.
Carter is industrious and hardworking. Having worked in the restaurant industry for 4 years, he is skilled in the kitchen and proficiently performs the daily tasks needed to keep The Watershed Café running smoothly. As a junior at Osceola High School, Carter studies during the week and uses his after-school hours to continue his learning opportunities through a school-to-work program with The Watershed Café. Through the program, “I’ve learned a huge amount of culinary and personal skills,” Carter states. In addition to his school-to-work program and the hours he puts in at The Watershed Café, Carter also works at Common Harvest Farm CSA planting and harvesting produce. He sees a future in the restaurant industry and looks forward to attending culinary school.
As Carter’s baking skills advance, he will be creating new baked goods and taking on the responsibilities of making the restaurant’s renowned, made-from-scratch desserts. “I love the process of baking,” Carter shares. “Finding the recipes, organizing the ingredients, mixing them together, and creating something delicious. I love food from the oven. Anything that will make people happy.”
From the kitchen crew at The Watershed Café, we welcome you to stop in, introduce yourself, and talk to us! Eli says, “Come in, see who we are, and what we do. We’re just local town boys cooking good food!”