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Hell’s Kitchen’s secrets revealed in ‘Damn Good Food’

Mitch Omer is giving away his kitchen secrets. Take the “Damn Good Food” cookbook home and you’ll be able to make the famous Hell’s Kitchen mahnomin porridge, warm and decadent with hazelnuts, berries and heavy cream, in your own kitchen. Oh, so good. You can serve it in your PJs — even throw a couple of safety pins into your eyebrow to make the service as authentic as the food. But it just won’t be the same.

“Having the recipe for lemon-ricotta hotcakes isn’t going to stop anyone from going to Hell’s Kitchen. It’s only going to give home cooks more tools and choices,” says Ann Bauer, who co-wrote the book with Omer, a close friend of hers since she reviewed his restaurant during her years as a Minnesota Monthly food writer.

Omer isn’t just sharing the most popular Hell’s Kitchen recipes in this book, he’s dishing up the story on famous meals from the New French Café, Pracna and other long-gone Twin Cities restaurants. Omer refined his skills in numerous iconic kitchens before opening his own place, the downtown Minneapolis breakfast joint that is as famous for its dungeon-chic décor as its sinfully rich food. A second location opened in Duluth a couple of years ago, and it’s operating at a loss, subsidized by profits from the downtown Hell, Omer reveals.

If you want to learn how to lose money in the restaurant business, he shares plenty of advice in here, as well. It’s clear that this guy isn’t in it for the money.

Omer doesn’t hold much back about his personal life, either. The book doubles as a biography of a life gone off the tracks, then back on track, give or take the occasional derailment. A glamour-free life of mental illness, mixed with sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and too much food, preceded Omer’s gastric bypass surgery, rehab and stabilizing marriage to Creative Kidstuff founder Cynthia Gerdes. He’s a new man now.

The crazy old version was pretty interesting, though. Take, for instance, the nekkid 400-pound man running through the woods in Ely. That was him. So was the saltpeter explosion in the Iowa State dorm, the couple getting busy in the beer vat, the roadie who toured with Van Halen, sorting out their stupid M&Ms.

“You have nothing to lose by telling the truth,” says Bauer, who is out to prove that in the end, Omer is nothing but an overgrown mama’s boy. The first section of recipes is devoted to old family favorites, the 1960s suburban standbys that he grew up on. His mom is in the restaurant every day. She doesn’t work in the kitchen that much, but you can thank her for the food.

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