Thursday, August 11, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

Not a shark attack in sight


Boredom is an art form perfected by teenagers, lifers in prison and pop culture. My money is on the teenagers as the pros in that group. When the hapless parent appears at school and tries to hand over last night’s forgotten homework, the disdain of the young teenager is something to behold: half-lidded eyes staring off into space, no spoken acknowledgment of the parent’s existence and a listlessly raised arm, clearly infirm, barely able to grasp the precious homework being delivered. Listen, you bore them. Period.joes1

But boredom is everywhere in our society. The boredom level is so dense it’s impenetrable — until the uniquely tragic blasts across our media. The recent shark attacks fit the bill perfectly. “Two teens lose limbs in separate shark attacks at North Carolina beach.” Wow. That got your attention. And such news also provides a public service. Look how many near misses we’ve had at Grays Lake this year alone.

Boredom is also uniquely aspirational for cool folks. It is an earmark of popularity that is just out of reach for some of us, as popularity tends to be. Popular people are bored with the ordinary aspects of life. They are bored with their jobs, with their boss, with their spouses, with their children and even with their dog. And if you think your partner is the cat’s meow, or you’re proud of your kid making the honor roll at East, or scratching the dog’s ears is your greatest pleasure, then at least strike a bored look and keep it to yourself. You do want to be popular, don’t you?

Apparently not Ashton Cross.

“I love food. I love eating food. I love good food. When I was younger, I was addicted to the Food Network even before it got so big.”

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This gently smiling, muscle-bound, sous chef can’t help himself. At 25 years of age, he is unapologetically thrilled to be a cook. Boredom is not in his vocabulary. With red hair that flames like the burner he bends over, he talks of love, life and really good eggs.joes2

“Last week we got some wild rhubarb and some farm-fresh strawberries. We also got our farm eggs from the same farmer. They are incredible, beautiful, you crack one open they are gold and yellow. It’s not like the white ones you get from the store. They’re farm fresh. I take those eggs and make an ice cream out of them, and then I use the strawberries and the rhubarb and make a crisp.”

Ashton worked for many chefs over the years since high school. He also earned his degree from Iowa Culinary Institute at DMACC. But now he has found a home at Le Jardin in Beaverdale. Under the guidance of Tag Grandgeorge, the chef/owner, Ashton is off on another adventure. But, let’s be clear, it’s about food. Making food. Serving food. The art of food.

“We make the pâté and mousse from scratch. The soup is incredibly delicious,” Ashton says and then laughs. “I may be partial to it because I make it. People think it’s not healthy, but it is really a good-for-you soup.”

Most of the time, a smile plays at the corner of Ashton’s lips. It slowly builds as he becomes more comfortable in the telling. And within a few moments his eyes are twinkling and laughter erupts. His life is not complicated. He works at the restaurant, he works out at the gym above the restaurant, he works at the restaurant. It’s love.

“The creme brûlée I change on a weekly basis. I do a s’mores cream brûlée. At the base I add chocolate chips, so it’s like a chocolate creme brûlée, with a layer of crushed graham cracker crumbs, and I make a vanilla meringue that would be like your faux marshmallows, I pipe it on top and I torch. It tastes like summertime.”

Ashton’s skill is no mystery. His mom used to bake pastries for Lola’s Coffee Shop in Valley Junction and he cooked right along with her as he grew up. In high school at Urbandale, he found himself taking all the culinary classes at Central Campus in downtown Des Moines. And now Tag Grandgeorge is rounding out his education. Like with something they call the Pork Shank Redemption, which Ashton describes as if reading from the Gospel According to John.

“We smoke the pork shanks. We then braise the pork shanks for four hours after that. We pull the meat out, slice it off the bone. We then use the leftover braising liquid to make a white bean cassolette. And we braise duck. So you get the sliced pork shank portion with the braised duck in a white bean cassolette, and it’s topped with sautéed apples, onions and kale. We then have an apple-cider gastrique that we drizzle over it in the pan. I can honestly say no one has ever been disappointed in that.”

Ashton can also honestly say he is unapologetically passionate.

“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I don’t feel it. Some days its long, but every day I get off work I’m happy. It can be busy, or something bad could have happened, it doesn’t matter. Cooking is an art to me. I feel that way about a lot of things in life.”

Ashton shrugs his muscled shoulders, bends down and torches another creme brûlée.

By the way, no reports of a single shark attack at the prep table. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog:

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