From Farm to Table: An Iowa Chef’s Dream

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Chef Katie Porter is always laughing because she’s doing what she loves. “I went to Southwest Missouri State to be a dietician,” she explains, “my second semester I took a food prep class and a chemistry class and I thought, to heck with the chemistry – I just want to go cook!”

That’s what she’s been doing since 1999. She’s worked in four different states, the Bahamas and Switzerland, but by 2011 she wanted to come back home. “My grandma and my aunt sent me the classified ad from the Creston newspaper about the job so I thought it was meant to be!”

It’s a perfect marriage. Katie isn’t a chef at “normal” restaurant.  She works for The Wallace Centers, preparing meals at the historic Wallace House in Des Moines and the Henry A. Wallace Country Life Center in rural Adair county. Everyone here is passionate about growing and eating organic and they’ve devoted their careers to the farm-to-table movement.

This is farm manager Mosa Shayan’s third season overseeing the five acres of fruits and vegetables and just like Katie - he’s living his dream. “I had relatively no experience other than home gardening so I didn’t expect to get the job, “ he says with a chuckle, “so yeah, I suppose it was meant to be.”

Where there was once nothing but corn and soybeans there is now more than forty kinds of produce, including some things you may never have heard of… like kohlrabi…a veggie with a broccoli-like taste and an apple-like crunch. “So the menu is based on what we get from the farm so it’s really exciting,” says Chef Katie, “the kohlrabi were new this week and we have cherry tomatoes this week too.”

For most of us, the idea of using only what’s in the garden to create a gourmet meal sounds impossible but Chef Katie does it all the time, and the final product is amazing. “It’s fun,” she laughs, “yeah sometimes you do make weird combinations and it doesn’t work out and you know not to do that again, but other times…you know, I tried zucchini and apricot with chicken once and it was awesome.”

Diners are trying unique items like picked eggplant and bison. “We really enjoy her creative capacity to put these foods together,” says Cathy Collins – a regular at the dinners in Des Moines.  She says she loves the food and the philosophy. “I think we all should know where our food comes from. Why not help out our farmers and our neighbors and eat what they’re producing.”

At the Wallace farm you can see the source firsthand, and an added bonus at both locations is the side of history you get with your meal. “There’s a huge story to tell and to celebrate and to share with people,” explains CEO Diane Weiland. She says the focus on food honors not just one man but an entire family, one that had an incredible impact on Iowa, the nation, and the world.  “You not only get what’s fresh from the garden, but if you look around the room you’re going to see photographs of the three men who made a difference in agriculture.”

From the farm to Chef Katie’s kitchens the three generations are still making a difference and you can help keep the Wallace Centers programs going by attending a fundraiser this Saturday, July 26th.  Two seatings are offered at the historic Wallace House, one at 5:00 p.m. and one at 8:00 p.m.  For more information visit


  • Aroon Melane

    Having your own fresh fruits and veggies would be wonderful! My family and I are not too good with our green thumb unfortunately, but we try to get locally grown fruits and veggies if the opportunity is there!

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