Asked if it was a case of a high-powered banking executive coming home from a long board meeting to don a chef’s hat and bake cookies, Noah Wilcox laughed and said, “something like that.”
Wilcox, chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America until March 2021 and current CEO and chairman of Minnesota Lakes Bank, released a cookbook that has its genesis in the meatball but that expanded into recipes for Thai street food, BBQ chicken “and a bunch of stuff in between.”
“It’s in the Giving,” now available at Five Swans in Wayzata and Ampersand at Edina’s Galleria, is a book of family favorites, said Wilcox. Part of his hope, he said, is that others out there who, like himself, are not professionally trained chefs will find the confidence to be a bit more daring in the kitchen.
Wilcox has been entertaining family and friends for years and remembers having dabbled in cooking as young as age 12 or 13. Wilcox said his professional experience is limited to that gained from working a couple of restaurant jobs while in college.
“You just monkey around with things. And I’m always trying something different,” he said, detailing how the flavors come together in such dishes as Noah’s pasta—the name of the dish having taken hold when Wilcox found that friends had started calling it by this simple name. The dish has a cream sauce over savory-sweet sausage and with key ingredients basil and mustard. “I sort of knew in my head how it would come together,” he said.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when trying a new dish? “Consistency,” said Wilcox. The amount of lemon juice used for a crab dip will affect not just the taste but also how much other liquids you might use; it’s a tricky balance between flavor profile and avoiding a runny or too-thick dip or sauce.
Wilcox said he’s taken inspiration from the places he and his wife have visited (the two had been on the road for some 200 days before the pandemic hit). A hole-in-the wall Thai food restaurant in Riceville, North Carolina, had especially impressed him. Its street food inspired one of the dishes in his cookbook.
“Most of the time we get talking to the owner, we get talking to the chef, and I think those personal connections are things that really inspire me,” said Wilcox, who then made a connection to his day job: banking, and particularly community banking, is a relationship business, he said.
And cooking is a relaxing business, when it’s done for the joy of it. “It became sort of a stress-relieving outlet,” said Wilcox. “Have a long day at work and I could come home and get in the kitchen and create and bring joy to my family with good food.”
Mistakes still get made—Wilcox recalled having sliced his finger twice in the span of two months and also of reaching into the oven for a cast iron pot, sans glove. Nonetheless, he said, “I think all of my memories in the kitchen are pretty good ones.”
Even if something goes awry. “If it bombs, we’ll have pizza,” he said, laughing. “It doesn’t always turn out.”
But that’s the fun in it, he said. “It’s just those things you experiment with and create over time and that friends and family members have their favorites.”