Culinary Spotlight

Photo of Eric Watson

The Culinary Boom

Keeping pace with our economic development?

My wife and I often sit at the dinner table and discuss our personal thoughts of the North Dakota oil boom. We discuss the pros and cons of oil extraction from the western prairie and the potential outcomes for both our economy and our environment. When it’s all said and done, I’m not a politician or a radio talk show host, I’m a cook. You’re probably more impressed with my thoughts on food, right? I’ll stick to what I specialize in.

I am not a North Dakota native, so I’m always a little hesitant to speak on behalf of a state that I don’t have long term roots in. I have a ton of respect for the folks who were born here and worked on a farm 12 or more hours a day without recognition or appreciation. We have all come to reap the benefits of the “BOOM.” In my own defense, I moved here without the knowledge or education of oil potential in the state. I moved here to raise kids and build a business. What’s that? Oil Boom? Sounds good to me.

Recently at Mezzaluna, one of our sous chefs served a unique fish dish of stuffed squid with squid ink risotto. Prior to preparing this dish I expressed my concern. I didn’t think our clientele would go for it, but what the heck; give it a try. We started with 15 orders and ended up selling 14. Wow! I was proven wrong. Our clientele was interested in something other than chicken breast, filet mignon and spinach-artichoke dip! Where are these eccentric and exotic folks coming from? Seriously, I tried serving a similar dish about seven or eight years ago and I think I sold one order and served the rest as staff meal.  I couldn’t give it away (except to the staff, they’ll eat most things that are free). The fact of the matter is that those folks have been here all along; I just didn’t know how to convince them to try new things. I’m not a salesman, I’m a cook.

The recent economic boom isn’t just bringing a new and more adventurous client to us. It’s bringing a new culture to the restaurant business. We as chefs, servers and managers are far more educated and motivated nowadays. I don’t care if you’re the best chef on the planet, you can’t accomplish anything without motivated cooks and a solid service staff. A restaurant is all about checks and balances, just like any other business out there. Seven or eight years ago I didn’t have a service staff to back me up. I didn’t have an educated group of people to help push our culinary agenda.

I don’t know for sure what the end result will be for our economy and our environment. However, I do know that our culinary prospects are great. Our continued determination to make downtown Fargo a great destination and culinary incubator for the rest of our region is eminent. We have all the right people, the right synergy and all the momentum necessary. The independent restaurant scene and the downtown vibe are on pace right there with the oil extraction process. But, then again, I’m just a cook. What the heck do I know?

*Eric Watson is the owner of Mezzaluna and Mosaic Foods in Fargo. He is also the Founder and President of the Fargo branch of the American Culinary Federation.

For more information on the ACF go to and like them on Facebook by searching The Red River Valley Chef’s Association.

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Photo from Be Scene Fargo Blues Festival

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Photo of Boom Town from Fargo Monthly Magazine

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