In the kitchen with ... Kurt Friese

Written by Kathy Weiss

Photos by Reggie Morrow

Devotees of the delightful north side eatery, Devotay, voice their preference year after year, voting it one of the area’s most romantic restaurants. Meanwhile, an enduring love story takes place behind the scenes.

“He’s the talent; I’m the producer,” Devotay restaurateur Kim McWane Friese insists playfully, referring to her husband-partner, chef emeritus Kurt Michael Friese, when questioned about their life in the food business.

The two met in 1983 when they were students at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. They married in 1987 and moved out East so Kurt could attend culinary school. He graduated from and later taught at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. In 1992, they returned to Kim’s hometown of Iowa City to raise their family. In 1996, the couple opened Devotay, named after their son, Devon, and daughter, Taylor. The 45-seat restaurant and wine bar is located at 117 N. Linn St. An advocate of Slow Food USA, which supports a food system that’s “good, clean and fair,” the restaurant produces sophisticated dishes with global influences using locally sourced sustainable foods, thus Devotay’s tagline: “Local food, worldly flair.”

“We buy everything feasible locally,” he says, which means he does business with 34 local growers, artisans and farm partners located throughout the region.

In their kitchen at home on the far north side of Iowa City, Kurt talks as he chops onion and garlic for a typical Wednesday night meal of roasted Jerusalem artichokes and pan-seared black cod served with cilantro parsley beurre blanc over roasted spaghetti squash. He skillfully maneuvers his favorite tool — a chef’s knife, “the Ergo Chef,” which he calls “an extension of my hand” — along with his choice gadget — a rubber garlic peeler that looks like a cannoli and peels away the skin with one swift roll on the counter.

Standing over a generous work island, Kurt speaks animatedly of his love for food and wine. When he isn’t cooking, he’s probably writing. He is editor of a local quarterly publication, Edible Iowa River Valley, and a regular columnist for the Press-Citizen with his feature, Table Wine.

Which begs the question: Is Kurt’s glass half-empty or half-full? “He’s happiest when it’s full,” Kim exclaims, laughing, while Kurt heartily responds: “I’m a big fan of the old French saying, ‘Without bread, without wine, love is nothing.’”

Kurt’s interest in food prep came early in life — “from my mother and father’s apron strings.”

“They had me stir the raisin sauce for Easter ham,” he says, adding, “Dad did the fancy stuff. He would experiment and watch Galloping Gourmet,” a TV food guru of the 1960s, Graham Kerr. While he maintains that food is at the center of his life, Kurt glances at his wife as he reveals, “My family is my passion. I cook because it’s a good way to show my love for my family.”

They enjoy cooking at home most nights. Kurt’s favorite is “real barbecue,” like his smoked North Carolina-style pork shoulder with vinegar sauce prepared in the Brickmann smoker on their deck. “But we’re like everyone else — we eat at Pagliai’s now and then,” he adds, while Kim chimes in: “We try to stick with whole foods.”

Occasionally she mans the stove. Her signature dish is “the best chicken pot pie on the planet,” her husband claims.