Updated: Feb 29, 2020
Food, a Home Away from Home
Belén Rodríguez may have gone to school for interpreting, but she found her voice through food. Hearing her talk about Sunday grilling back home in Argentina, this seems like an inevitability. The country’s prominent beef industry means this tradition is taken very seriously. It’s a day long process, starting at 10am by getting a slow burning fire going and ending at 5pm with the arrival of all your family and friends. Belén’s father was the grill master in her family, so every Sunday she would help him prepare the meat. When she moved to the U.S. with her husband, she knew something was missing but couldn’t put her finger on it.
All she knew was that cooking for her friends and creating a sense of community made her feel at home. She decided to explore her passion for food by working in various capacities in the restaurant industry, first front of house at Honey & Rye Bakehouse in St. Louis Park and then by volunteering at the Italian restaurant Campiello in Eden Prairie for 6-months. Her hard work paid off, and they hired her as a prep-cook and then as a full-time line-cook. She loved working in the kitchens but wanted to get back to her roots in the beef industry and learn more about butchering. This is when she got connected to The Bachelor Farmer, where she received a first-class education in the butchering process. After 2 years the head chef and her mentor Paul Berglund left, which pushed her to realize her idea for a charcuterie and savory pie business.
“I’m very thankful for Ann and NEON: she’s a powerhouse and knows so much about the industry and she’s very supportive.”
Carefully Launching Her Business
Belén was using Kindred Kitchen’s commercial kitchen space when she learned about NEON. She’d already been planning her business for a whole year and had taken business classes with SCORE, but wanted a more one-on-one experience geared towards beginners. She found the support and industry knowledge she was looking for from NEON’s Ann Fix, who’s a business advisor for NEON’s food businesses. They did practice pop-ups in her backyard and had a booth at the Linden Hills Holiday Market as a way to test her recipes and price points. With NEON’s guidance, she’s established a strict system to keep track of her sales. Her Mondays are now devoted to reviewing her invoices, entering everything into her profit and loss statements, and doing inventory.
“The most enjoyable part is seeing people get so excited about what I cook. It’s hard when you don’t have a formal education in cooking, and you have 17-years in a career dedicated in languages to not second-guess yourself.”
She knows the culinary world is risky, but one way she’s mitigating risk is by focusing on her tried-and-true recipes. She has a standard line of empanadas she sells to local butcher shops Lowry Hill Meats and Clancey’s Meats and Fish. She also has a few different pies, charcuterie, and salad options for catering. Instead of making her own desserts she gets them from Dulceria Bakery in South Minneapolis, which allows her to provide clients with everything they need without venturing into the dessert world. Another way she’s carefully pricing her products is by developing recipes around a specific part of the animal. She makes all her buying decisions intentionally, focusing her first recipes on meat from the pork shoulder so she only has to buy that part of the hog. While her business expands, so will her charcuterie program. Right now though, she’s working on solidifying the backbone of her business. This is where the empanadas come in. She hopes to expand this line to more shops around Minnesota, which will give her the financial stability needed to expand her catering line and eventually fulfill her dream of opening a specialty shop focused on charcuterie.
When I asked Belén why pies, she said she loves how they play to her strengths as a detail-oriented person. Pies are a fun challenge for her, and she loves finding ways to make anything and everything into a pie. She walked me through the process of making one of the two intricately designed pies on her menu, and it was just as challenging as I thought it would be. Her beautiful “Pork Pâté En Croûte” pie takes her 3 days. On day one she makes the pork pâté by hand, boils the duck eggs that go inside the pâté, and makes the delicate crust. Day two is devoted to baking and on day three she fills the gap left by the pâté shrinking during the cooling process with a type of fortified stock. Each pie is carefully planned out, and she sketches each one before trying them out in the kitchen.
Written by Anna Schmiel (NEON Community Engagement Coordinator) Photo Credit: Anna Schmiel (NEON Community Engagement Coordinator)
To reach Quebracho call 612-636-1342 or email email@example.com. Quebracho is now sharing kitchen space at St. Genevieve Restaurant, located at 5003 Bryant Ave. S, Minneapolis, MN, 55419. You can find their empanadas as Lowry Hill Meats and Clancey’s Meats and Fish. You can also find them at various pop-ups throughout the Twin Cities.
Visit www.quebrachomn.com/upcomingevents to check the most up-to-date schedule. For more information, please follow them on their social media or go to their website.