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Small Business Spotlight: Private chef serves the Brainerd lakes area

Jesse Ruttger, the owner of Up North Eats, hopes to let the Brainerd lakes area know that a private chef is an option in the area.

mugshot of Jesse Ruttger
Jesse Ruttger, the owner of Up North Eats, wants to let the Brainerd lakes area know that personal chefs are a thing in the area.
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BRAINERD — Up North Eats, a catering and personal chef service in the Brainerd lakes area, is approaching its two year anniversary.

Jesse Ruttger, owner of Up North Eats, has been cooking since he was a kid. Growing up, Ruttger would watch his grandmother cook and it inspired him to discover his passion for cooking.

“Growing up watching my grandma cook and everything, she'd always make these big, elaborate dinners,” Ruttger said. “I was always known to be experimenting in the kitchen and helping her and playing with pots and pans and stuff. And it's just always been a passion of mine.”

That passion early on would lead to Ruttger competing in a high school program called ProStart. ProStart is a two-year, industry-backed culinary arts and restaurant management program for high school students.

“So we had like a cafe in our high school where students, instead of using the typical cafeteria, could come down to the student-run cafe, which was a full service restaurant, where we had servers and managers and chefs and stuff like that,” Ruttger said. “So I managed that my second year and then competed in ProStart out in Marshall.”

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Ruttger and another teammate ended up taking first in both Culinary and Hospitality Management. From there, the two went to Nationals in Charlotte, North Carolina and placed seventh and 14th.

To prepare for Nationals, Ruttger trained under a hotel chef in Minneapolis. He continued to work under him for three years, eventually working his way up to be a banquet chef.

After high school, Ruttger attended culinary school for a year and a half before deciding to change his career path. He switched his major to criminal justice and sociology.

Five years ago, Ruttger and his wife moved up to the Brainerd lakes area to raise their son. Two years ago, Ruttger decided that he wanted to change career paths again and go back to his culinary roots. He started up his company with the focus of cooking the food at the event. There aren’t a lot of cab services outside of downtown Brainerd and going out to eat can be a hassle, said Ruttger.

“So when people are here with friends or family, it can be a challenge to get out to a restaurant and get back to the cabin and stuff like that, especially for special occasions,” Ruttger said. “So it just kind of came to me like ‘Well, why don't we bring the restaurant to them?’ and that's kind of where Up North Eats was built.”

Up North Eats doesn’t offer off-site catering. All of the cooking is done at the site of the event and ingredients for the meals are bought the day of the event. The only thing the guests are asked to provide are the plates, silverware and glasses.

If a party is under eight guests, Ruttger will go on his own to the event. If the party is larger he will bring a server along to help ensure everything goes smoothly.

They serve anything from starters to dessert and have a printed out menu for guests to choose from. The roasted beef tenderloins are the most popular item that Ruttger serves, but he enjoys making steak and seafood the most.

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There aren't a lot of options for a private chef in the Brainerd lakes area like there is in the Cities, said Ruttger. He said he is glad to provide the area with the experience of having a private chef.

Up North Eats has served a variety of different kinds of events. Ruttger said he has done a few bachelorette parties, corporate events and family reunions. Anywhere within about 20 minutes of Brainerd is included in Ruttger’s fee, but farther away will have an additional cost.

Most of Ruttger’s clients have not been local, but people coming up to the area. He has connections with a few Airbnb owners up here who have given him referrals, but it’s been harder to let the community know there is a private chef in the area.

“I think at the end, just seeing everyone so pleasantly surprised that a private chef is even an option up in the Brainerd lakes area,” is his favorite thing, Ruttger said. “I've had clients that are coming from these big cities, that's nothing new. There's always private chefs in big cities. But I think people were really surprised when they found that there actually are private chefs in this area, and being able to provide that type of experience up here in lakes country.”

SARA GUYMON, Brainerd Dispatch, staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5851 or sara.guymon@brainerddispatch.com

Sara Guymon recently joined the Brainerd Dispatch as a staff writer.
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