Kurt Michael Friese, chef, food activist and Johnson County Supervisor, dies at age 54

Kurt Michael Friese, a member of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and a long-time leader in Iowa’s slow food movement, has died. According to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, emergency personnel were dispatched to Friese’s home on Friday morning, but the supervisor had already passed by the time they arrived.

The cause of death for the 54 year-old Friese has not yet been determined.

A well-known chef, Friese studied photography at Coe College in Cedar Rapids before attending the New England Culinary Institute, where he later became a chef-instructor. After returning to the Midwest, Friese established himself as an early leader in the local food movement in Iowa City, working to support local food producers and artisans, and promote sustainable agriculture.

With his wife, Kim McWane Friese, he opened Devotay in 1996. The restaurant, which quickly become a fixture on the Iowa City food scene, was named for the couple’s children, Devon and Taylor.

Last year on Dec. 5, the 21st anniversary of the restaurant’s opening, the couple announced they were selling Devotay, and the new owner took over on the last day of 2017.

Friese wrote widely about food and related issues, including in a year-long series of columns for Little Village in 2008. The Frieses were also the publishers of Edible Iowa River Valley.

Friese was the author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland , and the co-author of Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots along the Pepper Trail.

In 2016, he decided to run for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors on a platform of “preserv[ing] farmland in the North Corridor from residential development and remov[ing] barriers to local food production.”

“I want to protect farmland from concrete and encourage local food production,” Friese said, when he announced his candidacy.

In addition to his work in Iowa City and Johnson County, Friese had also served as director of Local Food and Advocacy at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids.

Friese is survived by his wife and their two children.

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