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Chef Joseph Raney – Restaurant Skogen Kitchen Custer, South Dakota

Chef Joseph Raney – Restaurant Skogen Kitchen Custer, South Dakota

Photo credit: World Central Kitchen

Tell us about where were you born and raised, and what or who inspired you, and were the catalyst to study the Culinary arts and where did you study?

I was born in Los Angeles, California, and was mostly raised in Big Bear Lake California.
I didn’t grow up appreciating the art and science of food.
Food for our family was less about enjoyment and more about survival.
We ate what we had, not what we necessarily wanted.
When I moved away from my parents my goal was to find direction in my life.
I went to college in Las Vegas to study philosophy.
However, I was taught that you can’t know that you exist and that morality is subjective.
I was in search of Objective reality. Something absolute.
I would go to The Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Las Vegas at least once a month, which I could barely afford a month, which I could barely afford.
It became a place of peace for me, a place I could sit and contemplate my life, and also just have an amazing meal. I loved the theatre of it all. I wondered frequently, what it would be like to work in a restaurant. I believe this was the beginning of my culinary considerations.
A couple of years later, I enrolled in Culinary school in Los Angeles.

When did your passion to become a working Chef begin?

Probably after my fifth year working in restaurants.
Quite frankly, the first five years were excruciatingly difficult for me.
I was a hard worker, but I just felt like I never knew what I was doing.
I felt like it was a matter of time before I messed something up. And I did, many times.
And I was yelled at many times.
Once I started to understand, I began more confident in what I was doing.
Once I began gaining confidence, I started to envision a life time working in this industry.
What was your most aesthetically rewarding gastronomic trip you have been on?
San Sebastian, Spain. I found my favourite restaurant here. It is called Amelia.

I have read that you had a restaurant in California. Why Custer, South Dakota?

I didn’t own a restaurant in California. I worked my whole career there though.
I met my wife Eliza Her heart and soul needed to be in a small town.
My heart and soul needed to be with her.
So we found Custer.
I don’t neccessarily know why we chose it, other than the fact that it was closer to her family and away from the city life.
But I am so thankful that we chose it and that we found it.

Your icons in the food world and why?

Nick Weber and Eric Ripert.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with Nick for many years.
I loved the way he challenged himself every day.
He truly loved the process of creating dishes.
I struggled to understand how he created, but being around someone like that it works its way into your subconscious.
I do not think I’m even half as creative as him, but I find myself at time getting caught up in the process in the process just like he did Eric Ripert is a source for motivation for me.
If you’ve ever read how he grew up and I don’t necessarily know why we chose it other than the fact that it was closer to her family and away from the city life.
But I am so thankful that we chose it and that we found it.
How he accomplished his success, it’s a very sad but inspiring story.
When I feel self doubt, I remember Eric Ripert.
I remember that if I just keep working hard, I will find a way through everything.

What spring products radiate for your new carte?

English Peas, Morels, Fiddlehead ferns, zucchini blossoms.

What has it been like surrounded by such a different culture and life style in the rurals of the Black Hills, South Dakota?
Is there anything that you miss in California?

I miss being able to go eat after work.
In South Dakota, everything except the bar, is closed after work.
I feel like I know myself better out here. Overall, I feel much more at peace and happier here.
At the culture here was an adjustment, but now I embrace it.
I love the people out here, and if I ever need my city fix, my wife and I just hop on a plane and go wherever, even if it’s just for a night.

A dish closest to your heart that you renovated depending on the season?

Oysters. I love the natural flavor of the ocean.
With oysters, you don’t need to be creative, you just maybe need a solace of lemon juice.
Sometimes you don’t even need that.
I love finding dishes that need the least amount of manipulation or creativity.
In a sense, when you choose not to adjust something, that is the most important part of being creative.

Tell us, about your Bed & Breakfast Rural Hotel.

It’s not a hotel. It’s a house sitting on 9acres that we rent out in the Spring in Summer.
It’s great tohave another piece of the Black Hills, and it’s great tobe able to direct customers there.

In what direction is Skogen Kitchen going in 2022?

To stay debt free. During the pandemic we fortunately had very little overhead.
As we were watching and hearing restaurants closing, we realized that this has to be our financial strategy moving forward.
Running a restaurant is difficult enough, but with lots of debt, I can only imagine how much more difficult it is. Having a debt free business also means freedom.
It means were able to create what ever we want, and don’t feel pressure to cook one way or another.

You have been enriching your tables in Custer, South Dakota with elegant glassware, pottery, ear then are and international cuisine adopted to the palates of the region.
Please tell the readership, what do you believe are the secrets to your success?

Constantly changing the our wine and foods menus.
Having a culture of employees that are always driven by how well they perform.
And being present as owners. My wife and I want to make sure our employees aren’t left understaffed, and if they are, we are there.
If we can’t be there, we close the restaurant.
We don’t make our employees do what we are unwilling to do ourselves.

Last but not least, if money were no object, where is your gastronomic dream trip and why?

I wish I could work in Europe for a year.
When you own your own business, you become someone who has to teach themselves.
You start to appreciate all the teachers you had in the past.
I wish I could afford to go learn in Europe just so I can be exposed to new ways of doing things.
Reading is my only way of doing that now, however nothing beats the hands on experience.

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