"I don’t have a filter," Joe Rolle cautions me as we sit down in the kitchen at Il Foro, the downtown Minneapolis restaurant breathing new life into what was the Forum Cafeteria. "And I swear a lot—but I’ll try to keep it under control."
Rolle, who’s been leading the kitchen at Il Foro since its June opening, spent the previous two years at critically acclaimed North Loop restaurant Borough. Never in a restaurant setting growing up, the 35-year-old grins when asked about his path from the Iron Range to filling fresh agnolotti with squash puree.
"I wasn’t good at going to college—I was good at going to colleges, plural," says Rolle. "I was around 24-25 and people started getting real jobs and I wasn’t really doing anything but having a good time.
"My dad wouldn’t give me any more money for college," he continues. "That’s when my aunt suggested culinary school."
Always cooking for friends in college, Rolle got addicted to pleasing people. He also reflected on the many meals he shared with family in Chisholm and how food never failed to bring people together.
"It didn’t matter if I was in an argument with my dad or whatever, the hatchet was buried when we sat down to dinner."
After a stint at Palomino, where Rolle said he was so clueless initially he didn’t even know what the line was—"I thought it was cocaine," he laughs—Jack Riebel (now a partner in Il Foro) gave him a chance at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant. "That's where I got hooked. I loved the knowledge, the speed, the energy, learning new flavors and techniques."
Today at Il Foro, Rolle is in his element.
"I’m 75 percent Italian, so the Italian-inspired concept definitely sparked something in me," he says. "I’m really proud [of my heritage]. All this local, seasonal, organic [stuff], the Italians were doing that hundreds of years ago."
The menu is Rolle’s modern take on classic Italian: paccheri with fennel sausage; red wine rigatoni; Dario’s rabbit cacciatore (his grandfather’s recipe). And while the reviews and feedback have been largely positive, Rolle did take notice of some guest comments noting the menu descriptions—essentially ingredient highlights—were somewhat off-putting. He made some necessary, if slightly painful, adjustments.
"Can I call this macaroni carbonara?" he says, pointing to hand-written changes on the menu. "That kind of hurts the chef in me, but at the same time I don’t want someone not to order something because they’re intimidated."
Mindful of the need to ultimately make money, dishes such as meatballs and spaghetti are on the dinner menu. For lunch, a new version of the Parlour burger Rolle created when he was at Borough is a top seller. But you won’t be ordering it for dinner.
"For lunch, I for sure put my ego to the side, what’s left of it," he says. "It’s a different monster at lunch. People want sandwiches and soup and they want to be out in 45 minutes.
"But I also have a serious obligation to these people in the kitchen to keep them interested," he continues. "At dinner, the people that come to work for me, they didn’t come here to flip burgers."
Wanting to build the type of kitchen environment he’d always envisioned—"it’s a creative playground—Rolle invites cooks to come in early or on their day off to try new ideas or techniques. That kind of continuing education is proving crucial to retaining top talent, Rolle notes.
All glass-plated walls, ornate light fixtures and Art Deco grandeur, Il Foro exudes elegance. While that perception is intended (the owners—and the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Committee—wanted to preserve the historic feel), Rolle says it can mislead potential diners.
"You walk in and it’s stunning," he says. "We really need to get Midwestern people to look at this and not think it’s fine dining. My goal is to keep the menu approachable and the price points approachable."
1 cup + 2 Tbsp 00 flour
7 Tbsp durum flour
9 egg yolks
1 Tbsp olive oil
Water as needed
4 butternut squash, halved and roasted
8 yams, roasted
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
2 cups finely grated parmigiano reggiano
1/2 pod fresh nutmeg, grated
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup chilled brown butter
2 splashes apple cider vinegar
Salt to taste
Scoop out squash and yams while hot. Add other ingredients and blend in Robot Coupe until smooth. Put filling in piping bag. Roll pasta and fill.
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
1 Tbsp cold butter
1 tsp ascorbic acid
Place all ingredients in a vacuum bag. Cook in immersion circulator at 85 degrees Celsius until tender. Puree in blender, adding additional cold butter and pinch of salt. Pass through chinois.
Brown Butter Sauce
1 pound cold unsalted butter, cooked until brown. Set aside.
4-5 T real maple syrup
2 swipes nutmeg
Fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
After browning butter, deglaze pan with apple cider vinegar and water. Scrape pan and add particles back to butter. Add real maple syrup, nutmeg, pepper and salt.
To finish: Place cooked pasta in saute pan with some pasta water and brown butter sauce. Cook for 1 minute. Add fresh chives.
To plate: Spoon apple puree onto plate; top with pasta and drizzle with butter/maple sauce. Garnish with fried sage leaves and puffed wild rice.