No other Minneapolis restaurant has garnered the type of attention that has been lavished upon Gavin Kaysen's Spoon and Stable. He's the chef who made the audacious decision to leave a Michelin starred restaurant in New York City and return to his home state to join the local dining scene. Paying attention has paid off for those of us following along at home. There were Instagram pictures of the night before opening, Daniel Boulud clad in an impeccable suit schooling the staff on the finer points of reheating pizza directly on the stove grates. Thomas Keller posed for pictures with the staff. Kaysen's family and friends surrounding him. His mother proudly liking and commenting on every article written about her son. It all goes to show that we come from womb into this wild world and what we do, is what we make of it.
The attention and pressure has been intense. Kaysen remarked that in his first month he has seen more national, local and New York press than he ever has. "But it's been wonderful," he said. "It's not just media and national restaurateurs. A lot of these people are old friends and they are coming all this way to dine here." Friends that include food writers for the New York Times, Dana Cowin of Food & Wine magazine and Iron Chef America's Jose Garces. (Although Kaysen competed on the Food Network show, it wasn't on the season that Garces won. "I was up against Michael Symon - I mean, come on! I walked in and saw him, John Besh and Traci Des Jardins and thought, well, I'm not winning this thing.")
While he expected that the restaurant would be busy, the volume is still taking some getting used to. When the reservations first opened on November 10, the phone lines were overwhelmed with requests. Dinner service begins promptly at 5 p.m. and doesn't slow down until 11:15 p.m. Kaysen said that's something his staff has all had to adjust to. "There's no lagging. All of these people probably booked this table on the first day and have been waiting for this one meal," he said. To the staff, this is their daily job, but to the diners, each meal is a long-awaited event. The staff is acutely aware of that. When diners are waiting in line, out in the cold Minneapolis winter weather, they bring them something warm to sip: hot cocoa, cider, or whatever barman Robb Jones' crew is brewing.
At first it was all the Instagrammers. Everyone who wanted to be in first and show off that they were here first. For us, it's a marathon
"We are not trying to supersede the hype," Kaysen explained. "But live up to our expectations. It's been an incredible month." A strenuous one as well. On opening night all three dishwashers no call/no showed, leaving Kaysen laboring over a dish pit until well past 2:30 a.m.
"I've lost 12 pounds. It's strange, but when you're cooking food all day, it's easy to forget to eat."
Some adjustments have been made to accommodate the popularity. Reservations have been consistently booked (availability loosens in early January), plus the entire menu is available at the bar. Those seats are open on a first come first serve basis. This adds 100 additional covers to the restaurant each evening. Because guests have been working their way through the entire dinner menu, Dorothy's Dinners, a special family style menu has been postponed. Instead Kaysen will occasionally handwrite a list of specials from the kitchen and pass them out to guests.
"The menu will continue to evolve," he said. "Especially now as I understand the cook's abilities and they understand the equipment. It's fun to see the restaurant gains its own personality. We can see where it's going to fit and shine."
The most popular dishes have been the bison tartare, which had one diner moaning, "I want to have this at home, alone, on the couch, with my pants unbuttoned and a big bag of potato chips." The harissa aioli beautifully accents the beefy bison into a luscious bite of decadence. The arctic char has also been incredibly popular as has the bison pot roast. "Which, really, is really pot au feu. I mean, I've been cooking French food for years, but it's essentially the same thing with an easier name," Kaysen said.
That will give people the opportunity to give back instead of being a thieving dirtbag like me
As the restaurant eases into the second month of service, the race seems to have settled down. "At first it was all the Instagrammers. Everyone who wanted to be in first and show off that they were here first. For us, it's a marathon."
It's also a spoon stealing caper comedy. Since admitting his own perchance for grifting the curved utensil from other restaurants, diners have been swiping their own dinner momentos. "There was even one diner who sent a letter apologizing along with a bag filled with ten spoons. We've gone through 50-75 spoons easily. We're working on coming out with our own spoon that will have the name of the restaurant on it and be available for purchase. One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to charity. That will give people the opportunity to give back instead of being a thieving dirtbag like me," he joked.
"Now that we're open, people still have one eye on us. The hype of it is one thing, but at the end of the day, there is no way to live up to that. Understanding that makes the pressure a little more palatable. People are talking, though. People have forwarded us things that have been written online and said that they've been happy or unhappy. We're taking all of that in," he said.
That pressure is unlikely to relent any time soon. Kaysen is awaiting his first local reviews and suspects the national press is holding off until the Minneapolis media weighs in on how the restaurant is performing. "It's a lot of fun and the energy is so wonderful in this town. People [nationally] have no idea what is brewing here. It's exciting to be a part of it. The food will be so different a year from now. I can't wait to see it.