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Breaking the Ice: Amanda Bilek — sustainable energy advocate, avid cook

Title: Government affairs and communications director, Great Plains Institute

Education: Degrees in political science and environmental studies from the University of St. Thomas

Amanda Bilek loves cooking, trying out new recipes and using local ingredients. Just don’t let her hear you chewing loudly, whatever you’re eating.

Bilek has been with the Great Plains Institute, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that focuses on sustainable energy policy, since 2008. This session, she’s working with two coalitions the institute is leading: Drive Electric Minnesota is proposing rebates and promotions for electric vehicles. The Bioeconomy Coalition of Minnesota is working to advance development of the bio-based chemical, advanced biofuel and biomass thermal energy industries, from research and development to commercialization.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. I’m pretty approachable, so I encourage people that are interested in the work Great Plains does or in the coalition work that we have to come up and strike up a conversation with me. I’m always interested to also hear about the issues people are working on at the Capitol to see if there is a way that it might align with any of the coalition work that we do.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I still have “Go Set a Watchman” on my bedside table and am making my way through it. I also am reading the new book by Thomas Friedman, “That Used to Be Us.”

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. I have a real problem with loud chewers. I don’t know what it is, but it just really grinds on my nerves. … If there is smacking of the food it really annoys me. … My sister has a tendency to bite down on carrots in a way that is so loud, and popcorn too. I always remind her, “You should close your mouth before you bite it.”

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I really love to cook, to experiment with different recipes, especially with different local products. I’ve been experimenting with some Vietnamese cooking recently and Chinese dishes as well. My parents have a farm in central Minnesota, and we have a large family garden that supplies a lot of produce. I really enjoy that connection to food and agriculture, it helps keep me grounded.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what do you always take them to see or do?

A. I grew up in central Minnesota and graduated from Staples High School. My parents live outside a little town called Aldrich with a supper club called Ted & Gen’s Bar-BQ. It’s one of the largest open pit barbecues, definitely, in central Minnesota. I worked with them when I was younger and very little has changed. I take people when they visit my parents’ farm. I like to take people to Dower Lake, outside of Staples. It’s always nice to go, especially on a summer day, walk down the pier and spend time hanging out on the dock.

Q. What was a recent arts or cultural event you attended?

A. A couple weeks ago I saw Ben Folds at Orchestra Hall, performing with the Minnesota Orchestra. That was a ton of fun because I always like how Ben Folds mixes up his music with different styles. It was a lot of fun to hear his songs be played with the orchestra and it looked like a lot of the orchestral players had a good time with it too.

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