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Anna Bolz / Pastry Chef

 

Inspiring Women Series: Anna Bolz / Pastry Chef
By Sara Friedl-Putnam • Originally published in the Spring 2017 Inspire(d) Magazine

Even though Decorah native Anna Bolz lives in New York City, a metropolis brimming with 8.5 million people, her heart is deeply rooted in community. And each table of diners at Per Se, where Anna holds the title of pastry chef, offers up a different story of community and an opportunity for connection. Anna’s part in the evening’s story comes last – sometimes the literal icing on the cake – through the mouth-watering desserts she and her team of eight concoct at the Michelin three-star restaurant.

Anna takes that role seriously: It’s so much more than an evening afterthought.

“Because all the items are served at the same time, I strive to achieve an ideal balance of flavors, textures, temperatures, and colors,” says Bolz. “I want to ensure that the whole experience offers diners as much sense variety as possible.”

Recent pairings have featured a “bright, cold, and refreshing” hibiscus and pear dessert, pistachio ice cream that’s “rich, luxurious, and garnished with rose,” and a “sweeter, softer, more modern” chocolate dessert.

Anna credits her environment – “the city that never sleeps” – with providing all the inspiration she needs. “I will take a walk and smell the flowers, visit a gallery and see how a work of art is put together, or go out to eat and check out what other people are ordering,” she says. “I live in a very inspiring world, and it’s all about opening my eyes and being receptive to it.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that this small-town girl was learning the restaurant basics at a Water Street eatery in Decorah.

In December 2005, Anna – then a senior music major at Luther College – had her sights set on graduate school in trumpet performance when a part-time job at Hart’s Tea and Tarts morphed into something much bigger. After the restaurant’s chef abruptly quit right before the holiday season, she pitched in to help out.

The experience changed her life forever.

“I realized that while the music room was fun, it also lost its sparkle for me after six or seven hours,” says Anna, the daughter of Lloyd Bolz and Mary Steele, both of Decorah. “The kitchen, in contrast, felt like play – even though I was putting in 14- to 16-hour days, it never felt like work, and I started wondering how far I could push that.”

Quite far, it turns out.

Since 2009, Anna has focused her natural creativity and boundless curiosity on her work at Per Se, the NYC counterpart to Chef Thomas Keller’s fabled California-based French Laundry. Originally hired as chef de partie (section cook), Anna honed her craft under renowned pastry chef Elwyn Boyles, advancing to pastry sous chef in 2011 and then, in 2015, to pastry chef.

Anna has worked hard to earn the respect of her colleagues – she is one of only two women on the restaurant’s executive team, and oversees her own team that’s responsible for Per Se’s palate-pleasing array of desserts. And it’s a good bet she won’t stop there.

“I’m constantly looking at how I can do my job better, help others be better at their jobs, and make an impact on people around me that’s not just about creating beautiful food,” says Anna, who typically arrives at work in the Time Warner Center before noon and rarely leaves before 1:30 in the morning. “My goal is to guide the next generation, collaborate fully with my colleagues, and be a contributing force at this destination restaurant.”

Anna attributes her tireless work ethic to her parents, especially her father, Lloyd, a construction firm owner under whose watchful eye she learned how to swing a hammer and wield a saw.

“My parents taught me very early in life to work for what I wanted,” she says. “I started out doing minor cleaning projects for my dad and eventually graduated to construction.”

Those skills came in handy when, after earning her bachelor’s degree from Luther in May 2006, she decided to spend the next nine months doing construction full-time to save up for the move to New York. The goal: Attend the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center).

“I had never been to New York,” she says, “but I knew it had a lot of restaurants and a lot of opportunity and thought it would be the best place for me to learn the trade.”

Those instincts proved correct, and, after settling in New York in February 2007, Anna took full advantage of the city’s culinary landscape, spending her days attending classes, her nights “externing” at Jean-Georges (another acclaimed Michelin three-star restaurant), and her weekends plating and finishing desserts at the Porter House steakhouse.

“I was putting in 75 to 80 hours a week among the three,” she recalls. “My friends and family thought I was crazy, but it was what I wanted to do.”

That unbridled passion and undeniable talent didn’t go unnoticed. Johnny Iuzzini, Jean-George’s executive pastry chef, offered her a full-time job at Jean-Georges. (If Iuzzini’s name sounds familiar, there’s a reason – he served two seasons as head judge on the Bravo TV show Top Chef: Just Desserts.) Though Anna had intended to move closer to home after wrapping up her studies, she quickly changed course.

Two years later, when Anna felt it was time to move on, her well-connected boss was right there to help, setting up trials (a working audition of sorts) in the kitchens of two of the city’s top restaurants: Daniel and Per Se.

“Working at Jean-Georges opened up a lot of other options for me,” she says. “Johnny helped me realize what was possible for me in the industry and set me on the right path.”

That path, of course, led to Per Se, where Bolz particularly enjoys the “systematic, detailed, imaginative work” involved in creating the finale of the nine-course, prix-fixe, French-influenced tasting menu ($325+ per person). The menu’s “assortment of desserts” comprises fruit, ice cream, and chocolate treats as well as candies. (Dessert lovers, rejoice! The restaurant also has a five-course dessert tasting menu – $70+ per person – at Salon, its walk-ins-only dining room.)

In February 2017, Anna was one of two pastry chefs recognized by the restaurant-industry magazine StarChefs with its Rising Star Award. And while the accolades are nice, this Driftless native says the best part about her work is that it doesn’t feel like work at all.

“My day is never the same because I respond to what’s happening in the restaurant and the needs of the people around me,” she says. “I love being constantly challenged to be creative, and I honestly cannot imagine doing anything else.”

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Sara Friedl-Putnam loves all kinds of desserts–especially any involving chocolate!–and hopes to one day indulge in a full plate of Anna Bolz’s culinary creations.

Ice Cream, You Scream: Driftless Treats

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by Sara Friedl-Putnam • Photos by Inspire(d)
Originally published in the Summer 2014 Inspire(d)

Deep in the recesses of the Library of Congress lies a treasured document authored by Thomas Jefferson – and, no, it’s not a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

This document, handwritten by Jefferson himself in the 1780s, calls for “two bottles of good cream,” “six yolks of eggs,” “a half-pound of sugar,” and “one vanilla bean.” It is, according to the library, one of the first recipes for ice cream recorded in the United States.

Today, more than three centuries later, the International Dairy Foods Association ranks Americans as the top consumers of ice cream in the world, with more than 48 pints of ice cream downed per person per year. So pervasive is our passion for ice cream, in fact, that Ronald Reagan declared July as National Ice Cream Month exactly three decades ago.

Luckily, area residents will find plenty of ice cream shops eager to satisfy their cravings for this delicious frozen concoction throughout the summer months. Whether your preference is soft-serve or hand-dipped, chocolate or vanilla, go on, read on, and then treat yourself to a cup or cone of ice cream at one (or all!) of the following Driftless Region establishments.

WhippyDip

The Whippy Dip
121 College Drive, Decorah, Iowa
Owners: Rosie and Greg Carolan
Open seasonally

It may not rank up there with Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, but make no mistake about it: Opening day at the Whippy Dip is among the most anticipated days of the year in Winneshiek County.

Owner Rosie Carolan estimates a couple thousand people indulged in a soft-serve ice-cream treat – cookie-dough Tornado, anyone? – at the Whippy Dip on opening day last March. “We had long lines stretching both directions along College Drive for hours,” she says.

There’s nothing fancy about the Whippy Dip, but therein lies its (considerable) charm. Whether you crave vanilla or chocolate (or both!), served in a cone or cup, this iconic Decorah business – marking 60 years this past spring – sticks to the basics, dishing up ice cream plain (or with any number of toppings) sure to please even the most discriminating palates. “We’ve heard very few complaints,” says Carolan, who, with her husband, Greg, has owned and operated the Whippy Dip since 1985.

According to Carolan, the Whippy Dip’s fans have a former Decorah milkman, Derwood Baker, to thank for opening the shop back in 1954. “He delivered milk early in the morning and then worked here in the afternoon,” says Carolan, the fifth Whippy Dip owner. And while the ice cream machines, menu, and milk supplier have changed over the years, the bricks and mortar have remained the same.

“We have a great building in a great location,” she says. “We’re near the campground, the bike trail, the movie theatre, Luther College, the local schools, the swimming pool, and, of course, the Upper Iowa River.”

Still, location – or the contagious Whippy Dip nostalgia – doesn’t entirely account for the establishment’s staying power. “We use premium dairy products to ensure our ice cream is rich and creamy; we offer other fare like tacos-in-a-bag and foot-long hotdogs; and we have unbelievable help,” says Carolan, who employs nearly two-dozen high school students as well as a handful of adults. (Her husband, Greg, power-washes the premises every morning and serves as its go-to mechanic.)

Carolan admits that those sunny summer Friday nights when lines stretch down College Drive do generate a bit of stress, but that comes with the terrain of running such a well-known and loved business.

And the feeling is mutual, says Carolan: “I love running the Whippy Dip – I love my employees, I love our customers, and I am very grateful to be doing what I am doing.”

SugarBowl

The Sugar Bowl
410 West Water Street, Decorah, Iowa
www.sugarbowlicecream.com
Owner: Brittany and Nathan Todd
Open seasonally

Craig Running knew a good thing when he saw it.

A longtime Decorah resident – he was raised in the town – Running believed buying retail space along the town’s main Water Street was a “win-win situation” when he seized the opportunity in 1999.

“I tore down the rental building that was here and then spent eight years designing and building this space,” he says of the Sugar Bowl, the balconied, two-storied ice cream parlor he opened in 2008. “I thought that there was a niche market for quality, hand-dipped ice cream, and I was pretty sure it would work…who doesn’t love ice cream?”

Who indeed – especially when that ice cream is made by the Chocolate Shoppe, an award-winning producer of hand-dipped ice cream headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin.

According to Running, it was more than serendipity that led him to select the Chocolate Shoppe as his ice cream vendor. “I had a conversation with a man who made it a point to mention that the best ice cream he had ever had was from the Chocolate Shoppe,” he says. “I called up the company and told them I was opening an ice cream shop, and they immediately sent 16 different pints to my front door. By the time I polished off the first pint, the decision had been made.”

In 2016 Running decided it was time to hang up the scoop – and when across-the-street neighbors Brittany and Nathan Todd shown interest, a smooth transition of delicious ice cream serving continued! The Sugar Bowl currently dishes up 24 different flavors of the Chocolate Shoppe’s ice cream from his dipping station, with choices ranging from Old Fashioned Vanilla to Kitty Kitty Bang Bang (cheesecake-flavored ice cream with raspberry flavoring, Oreos, and chocolate chunks). The most popular flavors? Zanzibar Chocolate (containing three kinds of cocoa) and Zoreo (made of Zanzibar ice cream, marshmallows, Oreos, and chocolate chunks).

And while ice cream remains the star of this Water Street establishment, its décor – described by Running as “industrial deco” – has garnered plenty of admirers as well.

The bright-white building contains a treasure trove of antiques, from a 1952 Whizzer motorbike to a Popsicle Red Ball Express train (one of only about 200 made). “It was a long process, but I enjoyed acquiring these items,” he says. “I had collected and restored cars, trucks, and motorcycles for a long time so it wasn’t such a stretch to start collecting and restoring things that were displayable here.”

As Running envisioned when he opened the Sugar Bowl, the combination of rich-and-creamy ice cream and eye-catching antiques has proved irresistible for many a Decorah resident and visitor. “It’s been quite successful,” he says with a smile. “And business gets better every year.”

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Homestead Dairy
850 Rossville Road, Waukon, Iowa
www.wwhomesteaddairy.com
Owners: Tom Weighner, Paul Weighner, and Tom Walleser
Open year-round

Homestead Dairy has dished up ice cream for less than three years, but it already serves a frozen treat literally fit for a king.

The dairy had been making ice cream for only a few months when Luther College’s general manager of dining services presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: Would the Homestead Dairy accept a commission to make cinnamon ice cream in honor of Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja for an all-Iowa-foods banquet?

They jumped at the chance.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” admits Angela Weighner, who makes the dairy’s ice cream using only milk produced on its two Northeast Iowa dairy farms.

She need not have worried: King Harald gave the cinnamon ice cream an unequivocal thumbs-up at a news conference held at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum a few hours after the banquet.

Few would disagree with that assessment. The dairy has created 40 ice cream flavors to date. “We take the time to ensure we produce a quality product,” says Weighner, who credits the rich taste and creamy texture of its ice cream to the fact that it uses pasteurized, not homogenized milk, meaning the milk is less processed. “We also figure out the right amount of flavorings and mix-ins and make only small batches at a time.”

WW Homestead opened the Waukon dairy in 2012, and it has quickly become a “must stop” in the region for cheese curds, ice cream, and soon – coffee! In addition to seating both inside and out, the parlor offers 16 different flavors in its dipping station – coffee toffee is Weighner’s favorite – and most of its other two-dozen flavors (including the cinnamon!) are available in take-home pint cartons too. The dairy also sells fresh creamline milk, cheese curds, butter, block cheese, and ice-cream cakes. A full coffee bar addition should be open for RAGBRAI riders in July 2017, making this a “midwest delicacy one stop shop”!

“It’s hard work but very fun to come up with new flavors that people really like,” says Weighner when asked the best part of running an ice-cream shop. “There’s really nothing that compares to seeing families spending time here together enjoying our ice cream.”

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The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor
207 Pearl Street, La Crosse, Wisconsin
www.pearlstreetwest.com
Owners: Michelle and T.J. Peterslie
Open year-round

Not all that long ago, bikers were a familiar sight at 207 Pearl Street in downtown La Crosse. “It was a very popular biker bar,” recalls T.J. Peterslie. He and his wife, Michelle, bought the building in 1990. “On a nice Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t unusual to see more than 80 choppers parked outside.”

Today, the location attracts a very different clientele. Gone are the choppers. In their place? Tables and chairs packed with ice cream lovers of all ages enjoying a scoop from The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor.

Peterslie describes the transformation as a labor of love.

“Ice cream parlors were a prime social meeting place from the 1800s into the 1900s,” he says. “We wanted the Pearl to be a place where people could bring the whole family, enjoy a treat, and step back in time to when things were simpler and less stressful.”

To evoke the feel of an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor, the Peterslies scoured the Midwest, picking up the tables, chairs, mixers, sundae dishes, dipping cabinets (circa 1940s), and a bubble-gum machine that all help give the Pearl its unique charm. “You can’t just order these things,” he says.

It was Peterslie’s late father, Oscar, who created most of the ice cream flavors – from Mississippi mud and butter pecan to the bestselling vanilla – as well as the fudge and other sweet confections for which the Pearl has become so revered in and well beyond La Crosse over the past two decades. (The Peterslie’s daughters – Dani, Azia, and Tara – have followed in their grandfather’s footsteps and make much of the ice cream and candy sold at the Pearl these days.)

“My dad was adamant that we serve homemade ice cream, and he is why the Pearl is here,” he says. “We enjoyed designing the Pearl, but once we opened it, running it was like running any other business. My dad took ice cream-making courses at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, researched recipes online, bought our ice cream-making equipment down in Texas, and was just magic working behind the counter.”

While remaining tight-lipped on their ice cream making process – “We can’t really talk too much about how we do what we do,” he says – Peterslie says they’ve reaped nothing but rewards since entering the ice cream biz more than two decades ago.

“It’s a happy business,” he says. “When customers come in, they have the attitude that they are going to treat themselves to something good, and you in turn feel good knowing you are selling them something that they really want.”

ALSO WELL WORTH THE TRIP

Barrel Drive In
2014 Highway 150S, West Union, Iowa
Open seasonally

Top off a burger and fries with a shake, sundae, or cone served by carhops at this classic drive-in restaurant.

Country View Dairy
15197 230th Street, Hawkeye, Iowa

Wonder where the popular Yotopia Frozen Yogurt in downtown Iowa City, Iowa, procures its frozen yogurt? Look no further than Country View Dairy, purveyor of many flavors of yogurt found in stores throughout the Driftless Region.

Culver’s
904 Short Street, Decorah, Iowa

It’s not just the home of the ButterBurger. This restaurant serves fresh soft-serve frozen custard with a variety of toppings.

Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream
105 East Water Street, Decorah, Iowa

Sundae anyone? Follow up a tasty pizza with your choice of classic hand-dipped ice cream flavors and treats.

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Sara Friedl-Putnam, an avid ice cream lover, thoroughly enjoyed doing “research” for this article and highly recommends readers sample a treat from all of the friendly Driftless Region establishments profiled in it.

 

Q&A with Mason Jennings

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Introduction and interview by Benji Nichols
Originally published in the Summer 2016 Inspire(d)

We’re proud to say we’ve been big fans of Seed Savers Exchange and Heritage Farm for a long time. And for many a moon, Iowa troubadour Greg Brown (of whom we are also big fans) has graced a beautiful summer evening to help raise funds for the ever-growing cause of saving and sharing heritage seeds and plants.

When Brown announced that 2015 would be his final year for the Seed Savers benefit concert, there was, happily, another extremely talented artist waiting, literally, in the wings.

Well-known Midwest musician Mason Jennings was at the benefit last year, and the magic of that moon-lit evening in rural Decorah swept him away. With just a little peer pressure from Greg Brown and friends, Jennings counted himself “in” to perform the 2016 benefit show – when that show was cancelled due to wide spread flooding in 2016, a re-do was penciled in the books for July 2017!

Jennings – a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist – is a Hawaii native who now calls Minneapolis home. He has sold hundreds of thousands of records to much acclaim – the album “Blood Of Man,” which Jennings recorded on garage band (playing all the instruments himself), received a 4-star review in Rolling Stone. His thirteenth album “Wild Dark Metal” was released just this past spring – of the album, Jennings has said, “It deals with loss, love, suffering, longing, and mystery. I hope it finds the listener who is looking for it. I hope it brings deep medicine. I hope you play it loud.”

For close to 20 years, Jennings has toured the world, bringing audience members his unique style of musical medicine. This summer, joined by friends and fellow Iowa-rooted musicians The Pines, and combined with the incredible setting of Seed Savers, folks are in for some real magic.

Inspire(d) was lucky enough to have a few moments to collect some fun thoughts from Mason Jennings as he anticipates the upcoming benefit concert.

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I: You’ve been anchored out of Minneapolis going on two decades now, with real roots in the 400 Bar (RIP) and the entire Minneapolis scene. What first got you to Minneapolis and has kept you coming back to the Midwest?

MJ: My dad lived there for a few years and I visited and felt at home. I love the size of the Cities. The way the community supports artists and the close proximity of nature. The seasons work for me creatively too. Equidistant to both coasts for touring… great place to raise a family… the list goes on. I love Minnesota. I love Iowa too.

I: From our understanding you attended the Greg Brown benefit show last year at Seed Savers and were inspired. Can you tell us about your experience?

MJ: I love Greg’s music and the concert setting was amazing. Seed Savers seems like an amazing place and it was inspiring to see folks coming together to support it. Both Greg and Iris Dement took me aside that night and told me they thought I should play it next year. And I listened and agreed.

I: The Pines will be opening the Seed Saver’s Benefit show in August, and Benson Ramsey (of The Pines, and Iowa music legend Bo Ramsey’s son) also contributed photos to your new album “Wild Dark Metal” – when did you all connect?

MJ: I met Benson about six years ago at a friend’s wedding. We immediately hit it off and have been hanging out ever since. I think he is an amazing person and his songwriting is very moving to me. The Pines are easily one of my favorite bands. They’ll be joining me onstage at Seed Savers too, which will be fun.

I: Do you keep a garden at home at all?

MJ: I don’t keep a garden yet but I love gardens. I’m hoping that being (at Seed Savers) will inspire me to someday start one.

I: Ok. Rapid fire! First thing that comes to mind:

Midwest: Prince
Summer food: Corn
Family: Forever
Currently listening to: 89.3 The Current
Seed Savers Exchange: Hope

Don’t miss this evening of incredible music in an even more incredible setting! Here are the details:

Who: Mason Jennings and The Pines, with Pieta Brown
Where: Seed Savers Heritage Farm
When: Saturday, July 8, 2017. Doors 5 pm. Concert 7 pm.
How: Buy tickets online at www.seedsavers.org/benefit-concert