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Cook Norman Brantley made eggs for Jack Benny

Norman Brantley of Selby said he has always had a heart for cooking. It was a skill that helped him through his life’s adventures.
After graduating high school in Denver, Colo., he moved to Los Angeles to see what California would offer.
“At that time,” said Norm, “Hollywood was something. It was the place to go for kids.” Having experienced working in restaurants starting at a very young age, Norm had no trouble finding work in diners and coffee shops all over L.A.
It wasn’t long before a friend introduced him to Chef Roy, the executive chef for a new high-class hotel/restaurant called the Airport Marina. It was the first hotel built by Jack Crouch who started the Hyatt franchise.
The chef saw a talent in Norm that he liked. The whole cooking staff took a shine to him and he rose from fry cook to assistant to the chef in less than two years. It was this talent that would carry Norm through most of his life.
As a young man in California Norm worked in a coffee shop in an executive office building that catered mainly to agents and their clients. Some people who have eaten with Norm are Jon Provost (Timmy from “Lassie”), the cast of the Beverly Hillbillies and Jack Benny. “They’re just ordinary people when you get to know them,” said Norm.
Jon Provost was particularly fascinated with Norm’s cooking. His family would sit at a round table in the back, but the “Lassie” co-star preferred the counter where Norm would do little tricks like flipping eggs for him.
“Jack Benny would come in (he was old then, but he always said he was 39) and order three and a half minute eggs.
He’d say “Norm make sure those are three and a half minute eggs! I don’t want no three, I don’t want no four! Make them three and a half!” People in the restaurant would look up and wonder, “what’s he hollering at that cook for?”
Norm was cooking when a food critic for the Los Angeles times asked to meet him. The journalist had ordered the New England clam chowder and raved about it. He couldn’t seem to believe that something that good could come out of a little place like the one he was working in at the time. The soup got good reviews in the next week’s Times.
“My specialty is soups,” said Norm “I’ve adapted a recipe for around here that I think people will like.”
That adaptation involves using Lake Oahe walleye for the chowder.
“Most people have leftovers.” explained Norm “Say fried chicken and the next day they eat fried chicken, but there are a lot of fresh meals that leftovers can be made into.”
It takes skill and imagination to bring tasty meals to the table.
“Chefs create,” he said. “If a chefs write a recipe down, they always leave a couple things out to protect what they’ve created. It’s an art.”
Norm moved to the area to help out a friend who wanted to start a business. He liked the area so much he bought a trailer and stayed. Eventually, he decided that fishing was better than work, so he bought a boat and guided out of New Evarts for a while.
He married young in California and had two children. He later divorced and moved back to Denver. He opened several restaurants and eventually remarried. He had two more children and when they began to grow and become involved in programs, Norm began helping out in some of them. He started a baseball program at his YMCA and became a trained volunteer.
He saw great changes in the kids who had somewhere to go after school and wanted to be a part of bringing forward that change.
“The kids are our future,” he said. “What the kids grow up to be determines how the world goes for all of us.”
It was in this spirit that Norm bought the Time Out building. He is hoping to get volunteers and open a place that will help our community’s children to become healthier, more balanced and responsible adults.
Norm also has a gift for cards and has traveled on some prominent poker tours. He said that most people have it backwards.
“It’s not the hand you win, it’s the hand you lose,” he laughed. “A lot of people say, ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’. Well you can lose your luck, but you don’t lose your skill.”

Norman Brantley’s Recipes

Walleye Chowder
1 stick butter
1/2 cup chopped onion.
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped potato
1/2 cup chopped carrots
2 cups leftover walleye
4 cups fish broth or chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup flour
Salt and Pepper to taste
Sauté vegetables in butter in a medium soup pot for 5 minutes then add flour and stir well. Add stock and simmer until vegetables are tender. Stir in cream and walleye until heated through. Garnish with green onion.

Walleye Tacos
6 walleye fillets cut into 1-inch wedges
1/3 cup of soy sauce
2 oz of garlic minced
3 oz of orange juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 dozen corn tortillas
3 diced avocados
Iceberg lettuce
2 diced tomatoes
Mix walleye, soy sauce garlic, orange juice, salt and pepper and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes but up to 8 hours. Heat oil in skillet, drain walleye mix and add to hot skillet-tossing until opaque throughout. Heat tortillas and fill with walleye, avocados, tomatoes and salsa. Enjoy.

French Onion Steak
1 cup Au Jus sauce
1/4 cup lite soy sauce
4-10 ounces of top sirloin steak
1/4 cup oil
1 cup caramelized onions
1 lb. provolone cheese sliced thin
6 chopped chives
Season steak with salt and pepper. Grill or pan fry to desired wellness, turning once. Top with onions and cheese and place steaks in the oven to melt. Ladle prepared Au Jus over hot steak and garnish with chives.

Big Taste Steak Sauce
1/2 qt water
1 cup Worchester sauce
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup light vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 tbsp. each salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper
Mix all ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for approximately 20 minutes stirring often. Puree in blender cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks. Perfect on steak, ribs and burgers.