We had the pleasure of chatting with MJ Adams, owner and chef of The Corn Exchange Restaurant and Bistro in Rapid City, South Dakota, about various culinary topics, including her cooking philosophy and experiences, the trends in today’s culinary world, her inspiration from such greats as Edna Lewis and and Alice Waters and her use of fresh, California-grown garlic. Read on to glean insight and get a peak into the culinary life of leading chef, MJ Adams.
1.) What is your culinary background?
I attended The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan and was a July ’89 graduate. Prior to that, headed up “Meet the Author” series at the James Beard Foundation as a volunteer and worked at Woman’s Day Specials Magazine as the editorial business manager.
2.) What is your favorite dish/cuisine? Favorite dish with garlic?
I am a big fan of Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine but really, almost all ethnic cooking that is hearty and has a lot of history. I love chimichurri sauce.
3.) What are the major trends influencing the restaurant business today?
I see a lot of restaurants doing small plates. I hope the whole foam thing is done.
4.) Similarly, what influences your style and your menu?
Simplicity. I had the pleasure of working with Edna Lewis, Tom Valenti and even David Page at Home Restaurant – all these people had that in common. A dish doesn’t need 10 things. We also have a two-person kitchen, so I try to make it all work when you have to put up an eight top. I also try and highlight South Dakota products when possible, which isn’t easy.
5.) Any trends/major changes on the horizon?
I still see the farm-to-table movement getting bigger.
6.) What is the best thing about your job?
Creating the whole dining experience for my patrons.
7.) What inspires you in the kitchen?
8.) What was the most memorable meal you ever experienced?
The downstairs bar in the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam. A chilled bottle of Sancerre and their dover sole, as I looked out onto the canal while a barged passed by. That was two years ago, and I can conjure up the taste and images like it was just yesterday.
9.) When did you know you wanted to become a chef?
That I wanted to create my own food and be the captain of the ship for a change.
10.) If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
I’d be a curator of a museum.
11.) Who is your mentor/idol?
I have always been inspired by Edna Lewis and, of course, Madeleine Kamman, Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander and Alice Waters for the inspiration of the delicious food revolution that is finally happening across the entire country. That’s a tough question because there are so many great people around the world. I’m currently going back to The River Cafe in London, and Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray are amazing chefs.
12.) Why do you prefer California-grown garlic?
It was such a wonderful clean-sweet flavor.