In this At the Table, we talk with Doug Flicker the owner and chef at Piccolo located in Southwest Minneapolis about what’s important and what it’s like to run a small highly acclaimed restaurant.
Some of the things we love about eating at Piccolo is how inventive and thought provoking the dishes are and how the small intimate space and attention to detail make every meal feel like a special occasion. We also appreciate how the restaurant strives towards its goal of “putting what is seasonal and creative ahead of what is safe and familiar.”
What is the last thing you ate worth telling us about?
Lets split this into 2 parts. The last thing I ate at a restaurant worth talking about is a dish I had a couple weeks ago at a restaurant here in Minneapolis by the name of Heyday. There was a fermented potato dish. I could look back and read what the description says but with any really great dish the words don’t matter.
The dish had a ton of soul, it was unique and it made me want to order another one. That is truly a great dish. When you have to refrain (or not) from ordering a second because you want to experience it one more time.
The other answer was I was with my wife on a pyro business trip. Before we joined forces in the restaurant business together, she worked for various colleges in the study abroad field. In the fall as things slow down for us she’ll pick up some shifts helping out with fairs for the University of Minnesota.
We were driving through rural Pennsylvania on our way to Lehigh University when we drove by an orchard. Trees full of peaches! I dropped her off and doubled back. I bought a bag of peaches and sat in the car and devoured 3 giant peaches without stopping. I’ll never forget the flavor of that peach on a beautiful fall day.
What is the number one thing you want people to know about you?
Despite solidifying my first chef’s position at 23. My first restaurant at 29, and the fact that I own and operate 2 restaurants now, and have started an exciting project at one of the country’s premiere art centers…I’m super lazy. I’m not really sure how I get so much stuff done when I am actually a slacker.
What is your all-time favorite meal?
Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain hands down. It was my honeymoon in January of ’01. Ferran was on the cover of New York times Sunday magazine…Spanish cuisine was making its way across the ocean and we were starting to feel the limitless of cooking boundaries in the kitchen. There was truly a sense of limitlessness in cuisine. That meal was so full of flavor, wonderment, and excitement. I ate an egg that wasn’t the same on an egg. I saw a black ravioli that melted away when a hot broth was poured over it revealing the most beautiful tiny squid. It was like my first kiss.
Where do you feel the most creative?
I’m not really sure there is ever a specific place that I could say I feel creative. There’s really nowhere I go to be creative physically speaking that is. Creativity for me is almost like a coping mechanism. It’s a way to breach the feeling of security.
I don’t like the feeling of safety in my food. When we execute a new menu, there is a finite amount of time before it all feels too safe. We understand each dish; we don’t have to think as much when we prep or during service, that’s when the “wheels “ start to spin again. Where I use creativity to create a puzzle, something, a challenge that will again test us.
What’s the hardest part of your job that nobody knows about?
Letting go or saying good-bye to people when their time comes to move on. I have a very personal relationship with the people I work with. So when someone leaves there is always a hole that’s left behind. I always hope that when they go, it is for their betterment, which helps but I miss, in some way, each and every person that has worked with me
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be and where would you eat?
I’m not really a good dining companion. I spend too much time watching what’s happening in the restaurant, trying to inconspicuously look at the bottom of plates to see who makes it and wondering what the table next to me does for a living. I have a little ADD. I’d rather eat by myself.
What is something you want to learn to do?
I’d like to learn how to weld. I think that would be an amazing thing to be able to do. Creating food is so temporary, it’s eaten in minutes. Creating a sculpture or building something seems like it would be very satisfying.
Where is your favorite place to travel?
Traveling to me is not about the destination but the act. It doesn’t really matter so much where you go. It’s only important that you go. My wife taught me that.
Traveling, especially when you travel outside your comfort zone, is incredibly important. That being said Japan is top on my list of places to go. I also just recently bought my first true touring motorcycle. I plan on traveling across the country on it. Being on a motorcycle you are so much more exposed to everything. It’s physical driving a motorcycle. In a car the windows are rolled up and you really don’t feel anything. On a bike you feel every change in temperature, you smell fields, the woods, the terroir.
What are some things you like and don’t like about running a small restaurant?
I don’t really think there is anything I don’t like about running a small restaurant. The things that having a small restaurant like Piccolo affords me are endless, from the product and how we get to use it, to the people I get to work with, to our incredible guests. We get to work with dignity each and everyday.
Where do you see yourself and Piccolo in five years?
I really try not to view things like that. If you spend too much time looking down the road you tend not to see what’s important. Like what’s in front of you. Stop and smell the roses kind of shit. It’s important to have a direction, but you never really know where the path leads.
Piccolo is located at 4300 Bryant Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55409. At the Table is a regular interview series in Umami where we help our readers get to know interesting people. Check out more At the Table interviews.
Editor’s note: since this article originally ran Doug has closed Piccollo and moved on to several other ventures.