Newscaster, foodie answers the important questions about the local food scene.
Where’s Jason DeRusha? If he’s not co-anchoring WCCO This Morning weekdays from 4:30—7 a.m. and WCCO Mid-Morning from 9—10 a.m., he’s serving as the station’s food reporter, producing DeRusha Eats, or penning his food critiques for Minnesota Monthly. Be sure to reserve a seat on his social media platforms to view his enviable sojourns to some of the area’s best and notable dining venues.
The Maple Grove resident’s appreciation for cooking and dining has its roots in Des Plaines, Ill., where he grew up. “It started as a kid,” he says. “We didn’t have much money, so we always ate at home. My mom was a great cook—comfort food, classics, nothing fancy. As we got older, we used to go to a restaurant near our suburban Chicago home, and I would order veal piccata, with a side of french fries. They think it’s hilarious that now I’m a food writer and reporter!”
Even after DeRusha left Chicago, food continued to influence his life—this time it was personal. “Going out to eat is what my wife [Alyssa] and I have always done for fun, even when we were just broke college students at Marquette University in Milwaukee,” he says. “I love how food brings people together. They call it ‘breaking bread’ for a reason. No matter your race, your age, your background—everyone can come together and talk about their favorite burger or the best ice cream in town. It’s an equalizer: We all eat.”
DeRusha obviously appreciates others’ efforts in the kitchen, but he’s hesitant to sing any of his own praises. “I do enjoy cooking, but I don’t think I’m that good at it,” he says. “My wife and I like to cook together. I’m often her prep cook, but we take turns. We do have family dinner together at least four days a week, when I’m not out reviewing new restaurants.” Those dinners also include the DeRushas’ sons, Seth, 13, and Sam, 11, students at Maple Grove Middle School.
DeRusha and Alyssa moved to Maple Grove in 2003 when he came to WCCO. “We love living here,” he says. “Great schools and great neighbors. Maple Grove has a bustling dining scene—you can find us at El Rodeo, Punch Pizza, Pittsburgh Blue, plus all the new spots like Lotus, Brick & Bourbon and Rock Elm.”
Maple Grove Magazine decided to turn the table on DeRusha—asking him some Proust Questionnaire-inspired queries about the area’s food scene and his thoughts on foodie wins and regrets; dinner table dreams; and this or that.
The perfect meal is more about the people you’re with and the surrounding you’re in than the food. I want a juicy pork chop, a yeasty Champagne, some beautiful bread, an earthy French wine and someone to do it all for me!
Greatest foodie fear?
When I grill, I’m always petrified that I’m going to overcook something. I’d rather undercook than overcook.
Most admired living chef/baker?
The work José Andrés has done in Puerto Rico is absolutely breathtaking.
Your idea of an extravagant meal?
A multi-course tasting menu, probably with foie gras, steak and wine pairings: My favorite extravagance is to ask a chef or restaurant to just bring out their favorites. Not having to decide is my favorite extravagance!
Guests at your ideal dinner party?
Obviously my wife, Alyssa, and then I’d love to get Pope Francis, President Donald Trump, Oprah, [entrepreneur/ investor] Elon Musk and [Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg together. Imagine the conversation! Morality, religion, politics, the pursuit of excellence, imagination, equality. Wow!
Who in history would you invite to a dinner party?
Abraham Lincoln, Elvis Presley, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Alexander Hamilton, Marilyn Monroe, Jesus Christ, Albert Einstein. Politics, civil rights, the arts, science, religion—the whole group is represented.
Most overrated ingredient/dish?
I think it’s currently pork belly. It used to be bacon. Now we’re overdoing the pork belly—it’s usually too smoky, too sweet, too fatty.
Your most overused words or phrases when describing a good meal?
“Delicious.” My former editor Stephanie March from [Mpls. St. Paul Magazine] caught that, and now I try to be hyper-aware of it.
Greatest meal of your life?
Years ago visiting New York City and Eleven Madison Park. I’ve had incredible meals since then, but I’ll never forget that one as it was my first truly flawless fine dining experience. The service staff anticipated everything and knew everything. It was amazing.
Greatest achievement in the kitchen?
Oh, my gosh, I’m happy when I don’t set anything on fire.
If you were to die and come back as a menu item, what would it be?
Pizza! Almost everyone loves pizza— it can be creative, it can be workmanlike, it can be inventive or not.
What period in history had the worst culinary lineup?
The Paleozoic Era was not known for its culinary prowess.
Most treasured foodie possession?
My credit card.
Lowest depth of foodie misery?
Gino’s East, Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s?? (Hailing from the Chicago area, DeRusha knows his way around some of the city’s best pizza joints.)
I’m 100 percent a Lou’s guy!
Go-to MN State Fair food?
Fresh French Fries.
Avoid at the MN State Fair?
The sweet corn: It’s amazing, but for whatever reason, I never get it.
Greatest dining regret?
Falling asleep in between courses at a $600 dinner at Graham Elliot’s restaurant in Chicago.
The best food is where?
Spain! Spain has incredible wine and fabulous food.
What is your current state of mind when it comes to the Twin Cities’ food scene?
It’s better than it’s ever been, and it’s finally stretching into the suburbs! Look at all the independent places we have in Maple Grove now: Brick & Bourbon, Ten Sushi, Lotus, Rock Elm, joining Three Squares, Punch, Pittsburgh Blue, and the classics like The Lookout and Maple Tavern. The Cities themselves are overbuilt, with more restaurants than the population can support, though.
What are your Maple Grove food cravings?
I crave the Palermo Pizza at Punch, the prime rib French dip at Pittsburgh Blue and the Bun Boe Hue soup at Lotus.
DeRusha was a finalist in 2015 for a prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding TV Segment … kinda cool, right? “Greatest award I ever lost,” DeRusha says. “It was a shock and an absolute thrill to be nominated—this is a national award, and I was at the awards dinner with giants of the food world like Rick Bayless and Martha Stewart. All for a segment that I was doing in my spare time at WCCO-TV. It’s still amazing to me.”