Interview with Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable, Nominated for Best New Restaurant
Alyssa HaakAlyssa Haak
May 02, 2015
After JBF Award winner Gavin Kaysen left his post at Café Boulud to return to his roots in Minneapolis, the long-missed-local received a hero’s welcome, and Twin Cities residents are now flocking to Kayen's Spoon and Stable, a 2015 Best New Restaurant nominee. We spoke with him about his homecoming, his penchant for pilfering flatware, and his vision of Heartland cuisine.
JBF: Your restaurant is called Spoon and Stable. What’s the story behind the name?
Gavin Kaysen: The building we took over was a horse stable that was built in 1906, so the stable part comes from that. The spoon part comes from something I’ve been doing for years, which is "collecting" spoons from places all over the world. They come from places that have inspired me, perhaps while eating dinner, or working there. We now sell spoons at the restaurant, and 100 percent of the proceeds benefit the Ment'or Foundation.
JBF: In your bio, you describe yourself as gravitating toward “Heartland dishes” and that you’re “morphing” classics at Spoon & Stable. Can you talk more about that and how that approach manifests itself, with a few dishes as examples?
GK: There is a bounty of farmers here. The beauty of being in Minneapolis is that I can get from downtown to our vegetable farm in 45 minutes—and it’s a real farm. My intention is to take the dishes that I grew up on, or that I know have a great history here, and morph them into something that is more delicious than I remember. An example would be our duck dish: it has a porridge made with wheat-berries that we mill ourselves, and duck from a farmer that’s two hours from here. All of which I ate as a kid, but now in a more upscale version. The food being done here is creating its own voice—we’re not the South, we’re not on the coasts, but we have the best butter, beef, chickens, and ducks you can find. We like to use that as our voice to help show what Heartland food is all about.
JBF: Your last role was running a prestigious restaurant in New York. How does it feel to have control over every aspect of Spoon & Stable? What was the biggest adjustment for you when it came to having complete ownership?
GK: I ran Café Boulud as if I owned it. I never treated it differently, so I have to say there’s not much of a change with that part of it. What is inspiring now is that every day I’m working with a group of people who share my values about community, culture, and cuisine. Being able to make a difference through my own voice is something that I wanted for a long time, and working for Daniel Boulud allowed me to understand that with clear direction.
JBF: You grew up in the Twin Cities area, and recently returned after many years away. How has the restaurant scene there changed? What are some other restaurants there that are doing great things?
GK: I left when I was 19 to travel the world, cook, and experience life in general. What I came back to was a brand new city in terms of the restaurant scene. Marcus Samuelsson opened Aquavit here when I was in high school, and I felt that it was ahead of its time. Now it would thrive here, but it was the first part of this movement. I am honored and pleased to be a part of the Twin Cities, and I am just trying to make sure that we weave ourselves into this community’s fabric. There are many great chefs here doing wonderful things, from Tim McKee, who has won a James Beard Award, to Thomas Boemer from Corner Table, to Jim Christiansen from Heyday—this city is exploding with talent, and thankfully we have the clientele who are equally, if not more, excited to eat!
JBF: Back to your spoons. What are some of your more recent acquisitions? Have you ever noticed guests stealing spoons from your own restaurants?
GK: I see guests taking our spoons all the time—that’s why we sell them for charity now! I haven't taken any for some time. They’re now gifted to me, which I am thankful for. Most recently, I had a guest give me five spoons from her grandmother. She cooked with them her whole life, and they’re now part of my collection. It was a very thoughtful gift.
JBF: Last question: as you know, the Beard Awards are heading to Chicago. If you plan to attend, where would you like to eat during your visit?
GK: Grace, Boka, Next, Alinea, and Lula Cafe.
Alyssa Haak is a freelance writer in New York City.