Chef Russo has over thirty eight years of experience in the food and beverage industry. He has held numerous positions including executive chef, general manager, food and beverage director and corporate chef for several Twin Cities companies among them being U.S. Restaurants, Aveda Corporation, W.A. Frost & Company, Faegre’s, the Loring Cafe, The Northland Inn Executive Conference Center , Blackberry Creek Market and the New French Cafe. In addition he has consulted restaurants in Charleston, SC; Atlanta and Savannah, GA; Miami, FL; and Santa Fe, NM. He also has extensive experience in retail food sales in both the gourmet and mass market segments. He was formally trained in clinical psychology, philosophy and literature at New College in Sarasota, Florida, and spent six years as a child and family psychotherapist before devoting his energy full time to being a chef.
As a chef, he has been featured in every major Twin Cities publication as well as Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Food Arts, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Constitution-Journal, Seattle Times, Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Robb Report, Organic Style, Food Service News, United Press International, USA Today, D Magazine and Midwest Living among other national and regional publications. He has also made several television and radio appearances locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. In addition, Chef Russo was recently named to the Chef Advisory Board of Saveur magazine.
Chef Russo, along with his wife and partner, Mega Hoehn, opened the original Heartland on October 27, 2002. Awards both locally and nationally include: “Best New Restaurant, 2003”, one of the “Twin Cities Top Four Restaurants, 2003, 2010”, “Best Neighborhood Restaurant, 2004, 2005”, “Best Restaurant 2006-2009” “Best Chef St. Paul, 2007-2009”, “Restaurateur of the Year 2007, “Best Desserts 2008”, “Best Wine Bar 2008-2010”, “Most Organic and Sustainable 2007” and “Top 100 Restaurants in the World 2008”. Heartland has also received the prestigious Wine Spectator “Award of Excellence” from 2003 -2015”.
In 2006, Chef Russo was recruited by Bon Appetit Management Company to create and open the restaurants for the new Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. He completed that project in March, 2007. In 2011, Chef Russo was recruited by OTG Management Company as a Concept Chef to create a new restaurant in G- Concourse of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Mill City Tavern was the result of that collaboration, opening on January 1, 2012, and quickly achieving the distinction of being the highest revenue grossing restaurant in their national portfolio. That project was completed on January 1, 2013.
From 2008 to 2015, Chef Russo was named a James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalist for Best Chef: Midwest and was named a finalist nominee in that category in 2010, 2011, 2012 2014 and 2015. He was named to the prestigious U.S. State Department American Chef Corps in 2013. As part of that diplomatic mission, Chef Russo spent two and half weeks in Slovenia in April, 2013 meeting with farmers, chefs, artisans and winemakers while being filmed for Slovenian television broadcast, and spoke at the recent opening of the Slovenian Consulate in Minnesota upon his return home. In addition, Chef Russo has been named to lead the team tasked with planning Minnesota’s representation at World Expo Milan 2015.
Beginning in the summer of 2009, Chef Russo began authoring a blog focusing on issues related to food, farming and the environment and the politics related to those topics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Future media projects being considered include a wholesale business featuring Heartland’s proprietary food label, a book project and the development of a television series focusing on small family farms and sustainable agriculture.
Community involvement and volunteer work include: St. Paul-Ramsey County Food & Nutrition Commission (Commissioner, Food Literacy Task Force Chair), Minnesota Department of Agriculture Organic Advisory Task Force (Organic Food Retailer Representative), Lowertown Ballpark Design & Construction Committee (Advisory Member) and the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce (Board of Directors).
In July, 2010, Chef Russo, Ms. Hoehn and their team relocated Heartland from its original location to 289 East Fifth Street in the Lowertown neighborhood of downtown St. Paul. The new venue features expanded dining facilities as well as a full bar and deli/wine bar/ pub.
Chef Russo recently signed with Burgess Lea Press to author a cookbook which is soon to be released. Profits from the book will be donated to St. Paul’s Urban Roots whose mission it is to build vibrant and healthy communities through food, conservation and youth development.
Recent awards include “Best New Restaurant” (Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota Monthly, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, Midwest Living); “****” (Minneapolis Star Tribune); “97 out of 100 Points” (Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine); “Best Farm to Table Restaurant” (Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine); “Best Take Out Lunch” (Minnesota Monthly) “Best St. Paul Restaurant” (City Pages); “Top 5 Best Butcher Shops” “Best Restaurant”(City Pages); “Best of MN: Food” (Minneapolis Star Tribune) “Saveur 100” (Saveur Magazine); Charlie Award for Lifetime Achievement .