At about 9 a.m. this past Monday, Minneapolis chef Gavin Kaysen was awarded the 2018 James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest. It was the Spoon and Stable chef’s second Beard Award, coming ten years after he was recognized as a Rising Star by the organization. The designation couldn’t have been more apt. The Eater Twin Cities 2017 Chef of the Year is a star on the international culinary stage, but he’s also a guy who grew up in the suburbs, still loves and misses his grandmother Dorothy, and strives every day to raise awareness of the culinary talent in the Twin Cities.
“Just point a finger, it could have been any of us,” he said back in Minneapolis at a table inside his North Loop restaurant, his award casually sitting next to his laptop. “It was the same when I first won the award.” Those nominees in 2008 included Kaysen, who then was chef de cuisine at Cafe Boulud, Sean Brock of McCrady’s, Matt Molina, Nate Appleman and Gabriel Rucker. “Sean won best chef in his region the next year — he probably should have taken home Rising Star.”
Still excited and tired, Kaysen had nothing but praise for the local chefs that joined him as nominees. Along with his wife and some friends, he enjoyed the whirlwind weekend with his pastry chef Diane Yang and fellow Best Chef Midwest nominees, Steven Brown of Tilia and Ann Kim of Young Joni.
While his winning wasn’t a sure thing, he did prepare in case the predictions came true. He wore his lucky socks (polka-dotted ones that he was wearing when the American team he coached won the Bocuse d’or, the most prestigious chef championship in the world). And he actually wrote a speech.
“I’m notorious for not writing speeches down,” he said. “When I did my TedTalk [on Creating Majestic Moments] I didn’t write a thing. When I rehearsed they said, ‘That’s great,” and I said, ‘Oh, it’ll be totally different tomorrow.’” But for this, he wrote a speech on his phone. As he accepted the award and attempted to read what he typed out on his phone, text messages flooded it.
“Daniel [Boulud] sent me half a screen of just heart emojis.” In the one minute he was on stage he received 107 texts.
After he walked offstage, he immediately ran into chefs Andrew Zimmern and Jose Andres. Zimmern was about to present Andreas with the Humanitarian Award. The two large men embraced the 5’3” Kaysen with overwhelming gusto.
While Minnesota can be a hard place to make friends, Kaysen says he’s always felt embraced by this town. What he’s done for the region has been remarkable. Celebrities can be spotted lingering over dinner at his restaurants. National notables come to dine at his restaurant, but he in turn takes them to other places that he loves, sharing the wealth of culinary talent the Twin Cities possess. He also works hard to raise and promote his team. Spoon and Stable’s chef Chris Nye has continued to gain momentum. “I’m really excited about what he’s cooking right now,” says Kaysen.
Beverage director Robb Jones, who runs both the bar at Spoon and Stable and Wayzata’s French beauty Bellecour competed in a prestigious bar competition the same night of the Beard awards. While he didn’t win, it was the first time a Minneapolis bar was invited to compete.
Diane Yang, pastry chef for both restaurants and Bellecour’s little bakery has become a nationally known name, nominated as Best Pastry Chef across the country. While she didn’t win this year, “She will —she absolutely will,” Kaysen said.
The rising star has made good on his promise and what makes him so great. He hopes that his success will lead the way for the next generation. “I think this shows you can come back. All of these chefs that are coming up now, you can go out in the world, travel and try new things then come back here and have all this opportunity.”
On the subject of all the accolades he’s received, “Awards are the celebration of yesterday —of the past. What I’m interested in is Monday morning. What comes next? How do we stay inspired and interested and keep caring?”
The motto for his company, Soigné Hospitality is, Community, Culture, Cuisine. Kaysen will keep building the community and culture that promotes the Twin Cities cuisine to the next level.