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James Beard Nominee Dave Tallent Preaches Flavor First

Give Chef Dave Tallent the chance and he'll change your mind about beets with his Italian-inspired Beet And Goat Cheese Ravioli.

Chef Dave Tallent opened his restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana in 2003.

Culinary Oscars

The James Beard Foundation released its list of semifinalists for this year’s Restaurant and Chef Awards. (Think of it like the culinary Oscars.) For 8th year in a row, Bloomington’s Chef Dave Tallent made the cut as one of the Best Chefs in the Great Lakes region.

How do you get to the top of the culinary world? Focus on flavor, sometimes at the detriment of nutrition.

“If we’re being honest, any chef that tells you that they’re thinking nutrition first and flavor second is lying to you,” he says, “because we’re always thinking about how to extract the maximum flavor and give the best taste and the best experience.”

If we’re being honest, any chef that tells you that they’re thinking nutrition first and flavor second is lying to you.

He says that’s the difference between what people cook at home and what you order at restaurants — chefs may add a little more salt, sugar and fat to extract the flavors they want. Which is not to say that he adds bacon to every dish just because it tastes good. He keeps a bottle of fresh-squeezed lemon juice at his station, “So that if I feel like a dish is almost where I want it, instead of adding a little more salt, I’ll add a little bit of lemon juice.”

Can’t Beat Beets

Tallent is the chef and owner of Restaurant Tallent. They offer an Italian menu every January, but this year, they extended it through most of February because the dishes were so popular, especially the pasta — Beet And Goat Cheese Ravioli. He says this dish has changed some guests’ minds about beets.

“A lot of people don’t think they like beets and then they have it and they’re like, whoa — they’re transformed,” he says.

He usually sources as many ingredients as possible from local farms, but this winter has been a bear. It’s the fewest local offerings he’s seen in his ten years cooking in Bloomington. Since he needs beets in bulk, he has been forced to rely on suppliers from farther away. But home cooks can most likely still score 5-6 beets at a weekly farmers market.

Simply Roasted, Simply Delicious

Don’t like beets you say? Tallent says prepare them simply and let their natural sweet, earthiness come through:

  1. Wash them well. Season with a little olive oil and salt/pepper.
  2. Wrap them in aluminum foil and toss them in the oven. For baby beets, roast them for 60-90 minutes. Bigger beets will probably take over two hours.
  3. You’ll know they’re done when a knife comes out cleanly and easily, just like potatoes.
  4. Let them cool for 5-10 minutes. Peel and serve. Easy!

This is how Tallent was introduced to beets at culinary school. “The first time I had a roasted beet, I was kind of transformed,” he says. “I was like… I don’t understand why my mother never made us beets!”

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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