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Cookbook guru will be at builders show

Amy Thielen

Though she first learned her way around a kitchen from her mother and grandmother, growing up in Park Rapids, it wasn’t until Amy Thielen began growing her own gardens that she discovered her true passion.

“I’ve always cooked,” says the author of the 2013 cookbook, “The New Midwestern Table,” who will be making an appearance at the Lake Region Builders Association Home and Sport Show on Saturday, March 22 in Detroit Lakes.

“My mom and grandma were both really good cooks,” she added. “I grew up in the kitchen, I grew up with food. If you weren’t cooking the food, you were eating it. The people in my family have always had strong opinions about what they put in their mouths… (but) the first time I grew my own food, it really connected me to cooking in a stronger way.”

After graduating from college, the Minnesota native honed her craft by completing cooking school in New York City, and working in some of Manhattan’s finest restaurants.

“Working on the line in the fine dining kitchens of Manhattan requires a pretty high level of commitment,” said Thielen, noting that her typical work week in Manhattan lasted about 80 hours instead of the usual 40.

After seven years in Manhattan, she and her husband, Aaron Spangler, moved back to their cabin in the woods of Two Inlets, just a half hour’s drive north of the town where they both grew up.

“We wanted our son to be raised back here, around our family,” she said, adding that she was six months pregnant with Hank (now 6) when she stopped cooking professionally and they made the move back from Brooklyn to Minnesota.

“We really like living and working here,” Thielen said, adding that both she and her husband appreciate having the room for the gardens and orchard where Thielen still grows her own food, as well as an art studio for Aaron.

“My husband is an artist and sculptor, and he has a nice studio here, with lots of space to do what he does,” Thielen said.

“We feel inspired by this area. We like living here.”

But when Thielen decided that she wanted to try her hand at putting together a cookbook, she turned to her chef friends in Manhattan to help her find a literary agent and a publisher. 

“When we moved back here, I wanted to write a book about Midwestern food, so I wrote a proposal … but my only connections to pitch it to were in New York City,” Thielen said. “Having worked with some big-name chefs, I got to know their people, their agents and editors.”

Eventually, Thielen sold her proposal to Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, and last fall, “The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes,” ended up on bookshelves for the first time.

Around the same time as Thielen’s manuscript was “in the pipeline” for publication, Random House was developing a TV studio to showcase its writers.

“They were looking at my book as one of the projects to develop (for television),” Thielen said — and indeed, her cooking show, “Heartland Table,” was one of the first to be produced and distributed by Random House Television.

They, in turn, sold the rights for the show to the Food Network, and “Heartland Table” premiered on Sept. 14, 2013 — 19 days before the book’s official release date.

A second season of the show launched this past Saturday, March 8, and will run every succeeding Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. for the next month and a half. (Repeats of the show air on Monday afternoons at 5:30.)

Thielen is working on a second cookbook as well. Though it doesn’t have a title yet, she said, “It’s a book of stories about food.”

Though “The New Midwestern Table” also includes some anecdotes along with the recipes, Thielen said her new book will expand on the narrative side a little more.

Unless otherwise specified (a rare occurrence), all of the recipes that Thielen shares, both in her book and on her show, are her own.

“I develop my own recipes,” Thielen said. “I like to combine flavors. I’m always working on new stuff… I put things through a lot of trials in my kitchen.”

But once Thielen achieves what she feels is the perfect combination of flavors, she usually ends up starting all over again.

“Once I finish a recipe and publish it, I rarely make it again,” she says.

She also admits to being “kind of obsessive” when it comes to cooking her own meals.

“Even when I’m on vacation, after five or six days, I get really buggy — I want to be cooking again,” she said. “I don’t really like going to restaurants, I like making my own food, making stuff for my family.”

She also enjoys sharing her talent with others — and that’s just what she intends to do in her upcoming visit to Detroit Lakes as well.

“I’ll be talking about the book and my TV show, and making a couple of things,” Thielen said.

The first recipe she prepares will include one of her favorite staples of Minnesota cooking: wild rice.

“I’ll be making breakfast wild rice, with real wild rice that I’m bringing in from one of my neighbors,” Thielen said. “It’s very, very local.”

She will also be serving up samples of the dish to Home & Sports Show visitors, with generous portions of authentic maple syrup, pecans and milk.

After that, she’ll be serving up a family favorite, Smoky Sauerkraut Soup, made with fresh smoked sausage from her family’s meat market, peppers and fermented sauerkraut — “the real kind, that comes in the glass jars,” Thielen added.

“It’s really a good soup for any time of year,” she added.

Unlike the wild rice dish, however, Thielen won’t be serving up samples — instead, she’ll be auctioning off the pot to one lucky audience member to take home with them.

Thielen said she enjoys doing local cooking demonstrations like this one, “Because I love cooking for my neighbors, and I like the feedback that I get… the shared memories that they come up to me with afterwards. The stories they tell, they sound so familiar… I just think it’s going to be really fun.”

The LRBA Builders Association Home & Sports Show runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 22, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 23 inside Kent Freeman Arena.

Thielen will be appearing at 1:30 p.m. that Saturday; in addition to the demonstration, she will also be signing copies of her book.

There is a minimal entrance fee for admission to the show. Call 218-844-0699 for more information.

For more information about Thielen, please visit her website, There you will find her blog, “Sourtooth,” as well as information about her book, TV show, and other upcoming appearances.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454