MARCH 3, 2020

angry trout cafe

CHEW Cookbook Review: Angry Trout Cafe Notebook

Angry Trout Café Notebook: Friends, Recipes, and the Culture of Sustainability

By George Wilkes, published by Northwind Sailing, Inc. 2004

Think an ‘Up North’ version of a Monty Python variety show plus recipes, including well thought-out sustainability philosophy and a collection of Grand Marais MN neighbors’ profiles, all told with a deep appreciation for the surrounding resources of the upper shore of Lake Superior and an ironist’s grin, and you get a fair glimpse at the adventure that is the Angry Trout Café Notebook: Friends, Recipes, and the Culture of Sustainability by George Wilkes (Northwind Sailing, Inc. 2004).

george wilkes holding his book
George Wilkes and his cookbook, via

The notebook style cover barely indicates what’s in store for the rest of this ‘catch-all’ cookbook, but by the first few pages you get the sense that this is going to be fun. An introductory mock article from the Cook County News Herald tells us the story of the angry trout, as written by a fictional Ms. Elaine Fisch, “renowned medium to the spirit world, aroma therapist, and founder of the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Crystals,” who is quoted in her book “When the Fish Speak” that she has spoken directly to the trout and they are indeed angry about “the spoons, the spinners, the Hexegenia imitations, even gill nets and worst of all: live bait.” Later we find out that the real story of the angry trout had more to do with a love story and the doodling of a surfacing trout by a guy named George.

angry trout cafe
Angry Trout Café in Grand Marais, Minnesota via

Although the end of the book offers up a clear and serious doctrine for sustainability as it relates to food, fish, consumption and energy, we find through the rest of the pages more subtle best-practices from the restaurant like mini-cloth napkins or the use of the prescribed company vehicle, a bike with flat handlebars and a milk crate for carriage. Most important though are the long-standing relationships with the community, for the town blacksmith who makes your outdoor chairs, or the artisan who creatively tiles your bathroom, are also your customers. Dr. Seuss’s Lorax, everyone’s neighbor, also shows up to tell us a bit about the detrimental effects of factory-farming. One way to help out the Lorax, we see in later pages, is a thriving Food Co-op and Farmer’s Market, both advertised in the cookbook. And yes, we also get to learn the chef’s secrets for how to smoke a perfect fish or how to turn the sacred trout to the signature dish of chowder. In the “Official Trout Flow-Chart” found in the salads section, we are shown how the recipes and good humor are all connected at once: digestion, Lake Superior, happiness by-product, and all natural highest quality ingredients.