By Summer Kelly
In the heart of the beautiful St. Croix River Valley, you will find The Watershed Café: a sustainably-sourced restaurant honoring the local flavor and the surrounding natural resources. In a recent interview, we caught up with owner Rita Rasmuson to discuss the whole foods vision of The Watershed Café.
Summer Kelly: What inspires you the most about cooking?
Rita Rasmuson: Food is extremely important to us. We need to realize its importance and be mindful of what is on our plate. Food has two ways of affecting us—it can either make us sick, or it can make us feel better. Being mindful to choose foods that make us feel better is my ultimate inspiration.
SK: What do you enjoy the most about The Watershed Café?
RR: Preparing a good meal and bringing it to the family table. It’s really important for us to slow down and enjoy a meal together. The community has come to know our menu and really understand the effort we make to bring good food to the table.
SK: You describe your food as “good food.” What does that mean to you?
RR: Our ingredients are full of incredible flavor. Our meals are nutrient-rich and nourishing. Our food is grown in a way that supports land preservation and local economy. And we are mindful about everything we make. When people walk into The Watershed Café, I hope they feel they are walking into something bigger than all of us. We want people to have an experience that connects us to each other and to the land.
SK: What inspires your daily and weekly specials that continually introduce new items?
RR: When I plan recipes and meals, I think about what’s in season, what’s available, and what people crave. As the seasons change, so do the flavors we want and the foods we need. In the winter, we get our nourishment from meats and root vegetables like carrots, onion, and potatoes. In the spring, we have a variety of nutrient-rich greens. In the summer and fall, we see an abundance of beautiful local produce and sustainably-sourced foods. The changing seasons in the Midwest are incredibly important and provide us with the foods we should be eating.
SK: How are whole grains important ingredients in your meals?
RR: Whole grains like oats, whole wheat berries, barley, bulgur, farro, and wild rice add another level of flavor and nutrition. Whole grains are easier for our bodies to digest and provide additional nourishment. We work hard to avoid highly processed foods and instead utilize the whole plant from seed to root.
SK: All of your food is so flavorful, robust, and hearty. How do you achieve this?
RR: Fresh herbs and spices are key ingredients to each of our menu items. We also use a lot of fresh produce and locally-sourced meats, dairy products, maple syrup, and honey. We don’t have to add a lot of other ingredients because these whole foods on their own are very flavorful.
SK: How do you support local food sources year-round?
RR: We are fortunate to have a sustainable source of meat through Peterson Craftsman Meats, a local farm with pasture-raised cows and pigs. We source dairy products through a local creamery, Crystal Ball Farms. Our specialty cheeses come from craft cheese makers in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and we work with local Cosmic Wheel Creamery. One of our growers, Morning Sun Farms, built a greenhouse for year-round produce that provides fresh, micro-greens and lettuces for us in the winter.
SK: What can each of us do to support small, family-owned farms and the local economy like The Watershed Café does?
RR: Communicate with your local grocers. Talk to the produce and meat departments—ask where they source their food. Purchase local when it’s available, and ask for more! Visit your local co-ops, farmers markets, and CSA’s. In the winter, find sources of local meats, cheeses, and greenhouse-grown produce. Do a little bit of research and engage others in the conversation. There are a lot of resources out there—sometimes we just need to look for them.