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Connecting Through Food

Chef Rob Lagerlof came to his culinary profession late in life—after training as a physiologist and food scientist and working at Prairie Farms for 29 years. But his passion for food was always there.

“I became a chef because I love cooking,” Lagerlof said. When both his sons left college, Lagerlof went to culinary school to achieve his dream. In a way, working as a chef at the dairy foods company Prairie Farms was his familial destiny—one of his grandfathers was a chef and the other was a dairy farmer.

Lagerlof took time to talk about his passion for food and how it connects him to the world:

What gets you most excited about dairy?
Dairy delivers just about what everyone wants: protein, vitamin D, calcium and potassium. Plus, it just gives such great flavor.

In culinary school, we learn the classic French methods with full-fat dairies. Butter is in the forefront, and so is cream and whole milk. It’s so exciting to be in the kitchen again using what we’ve trained on.

What’s something people don’t know about your job?
How seriously we take things. You have to let things roll off your shoulders when you get strange messages on social media. If someone doesn’t like a flavor, they let us know. We take that a little more seriously than the average person because we really want to make something perfect. It’s like an artist. When someone likes what you make, it’s one of the highest highs you can ever get.

A couple years ago we made a video where I showed how to make my Mom’s cardamom coffee cake. A woman from Florida called just to get a clarification on the recipe. I had lost my darling Swedish mother a couple years earlier, and she had lost her darling Swedish mother, and we connected over that. It meant so much to me that someone in Florida would take the time to call me.

When and where are you happiest?
That one’s easy. In the kitchen. It doesn’t matter when it is, but usually on Sunday afternoons I turn off the phone and I turn off the computer. I just cook all day. That’s when I’m happiest.

What is the quality you most like in a person?
I think a spirit of adventure. Whether it’s adventures in travel or, especially, in dining. And to be comfortable enough to say, “You know what? I tried that and I didn’t really like it,” or “I wouldn’t have tried that if we hadn’t gone here.”

What’s the nerdiest dairy-related conversation you’ve had?
I have a lot of nerdy food conversations. Every year, I get to together with my chef friends. This year we went to France and I drove around two of the provinces, Normandy and Brittany, just to try their cheeses. I was on the last true Camembert-producing farm that meets all of the AOP (Appellation d'origine protégée), which is the protected official definition of Camembert. It’s the last farm that fits all those definitions. And once that guy retires, if he doesn’t hand it down, it will have been the last true Camembert-producing farm.

What do you consider the most over-rated virtue?
I’m going to say the virtue of prudence. Sometimes the prudent decision is not the best decision. Sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone and jump in with both feet.