Local Food Just Makes Sense at Söntes
by Nancy Yang, Rochester Minnesota
Us northerners have never much been known for our cooking, so saying that a restaurant in a small Minnesotan town boasts “local food” might not impress anyone. The customers won’t notice the extra effort the owners of Rochester, Minnesota’s tapas restaurant Söntes puts into their restaurant: coordinating up to 30 farmers, innovating dishes using constantly varying produce, and manipulating costs so that the prices are still competitive.
Tessa and Nelson started Söntes in 2006, and from the start the restaurant was fully committed to using local produce. Tessa says she had always intended to own such a restaurant. “I grew up here,” she says, and using farm produce was “normal as a kid.” When she moved to the Twin Cities, Minnesota’s metropolitan center, and saw all the local produce being shipped there, she asked, Why isn’t anyone in Rochester working with the farmers and using local products?
While many other Rochester eateries claim to incorporate local ingredients, none displays such an ardent commitment as Söntes. It emphasizes its seasonal menu based on locally grown produce and its support for not only the regional farmers but artisans as well. Söntes is decorated with works by local artists and houses live music on Saturday nights. Its blog is constantly updated with heart filled commentaries on food and wine, community news, and sustainable living. The Slow Food principle “just makes sense,” Tessa says, “We don’t know any different.” It’s obvious that Söntes goes above and beyond cooking local—they work with local. They honor the sense of community that Rochester urgently needs to remain vibrant and attractive for visitors.
Maybe it would have been easier to open Söntes in a large city, where transporting produce would be more efficient and the community would be more willing to recognize Söntes’s undertaking. “It’s not always a money maker—the products are more expensive and is a big deterrent for people, and it’s very hard to implement and execute.” But Tessa and Nelson chose Rochester, and their restaurant is thriving.
At the downtown festival, I have to wait out a long line running from Söntes’ stand, so that I can grab a bite of their paella. It’s being cooked in an open-air pan almost as wide as I am tall, and it smells heavenly. Clearly the numerous customers believe Söntes's slow food is worth the wait.