Dining with Dara: Northern female chefs - all hail the new generation

Chef Andrea Baumgardner
Chef Andrea Baumgardner looks up from her work on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, at the Green Market Kitchen in downtown Fargo. The Green Market is owned by Baumgardner, Peter Kelly and Steve Heiland.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl checks in with MPR News each week to talk about what's new and notable in Minnesota food and restaurants. Last week she discussed the remarkable crop of James Beard semifinalist nominees, 16 total. However, only one chef in the group of nominees is a woman: Michelle Gayer, the pastry chef who owns the Minneapolis bakery Salty Tart.

This week we discuss the question: Are there no female chefs in Minnesota?

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl: There are! But it's complicated. First, a little background. Lots of women go to cooking schools — but then, a lot of them fall off the truck, as it were, on the way to the gig as the head of the kitchen.

Tom Crann: Where do they go?

DMG: A lot of women end up in pastry — pastry is considered different from savory cooking, and practically it's a very different day-to-day life. Pastry cooks tend to keep baker's hours, they're usually in a restaurant kitchen early in the morning, and leave by the time dinner service rolls around, which makes it a much more family-friendly job.

The top pastry chefs in Minneapolis are all female, people like Khanh Tran at Cosmos, Diane Yang at La Belle Vie, Adrienne Odom at Parasole, and of course Michelle Gayer of Salty Tart, regarded by the James Beard foundation voters as one of the top 20 pastry chefs in the country right now.

Tom Crann: So the female chefs are in pastry.

DMG: A lot of them gravitate towards more family friendly jobs, in catering or work as a private chef. For instance; Marianne Miller, who had a brief run as one of the Twin Cities' elite chefs when she helmed the short-lived Red and then Bobino, now runs a cooking school called Saga Hill. Carrie Summer left her well-reviewed restaurants to found Chef Shack, the first of the big food trucks in Minnesota.

Tom Crann: But I know there are female chefs in prominent restaurants in Minnesota.

DMG: Absolutely. In Minnesota we have a generation of chefs who were founding-mothers, as it were, people like Brenda Langton of Spoonriver, Lucia Watson of Lucia's, and Judi Barsness of Chez Jude in Grand Marais.

After them we had a great silence — the only notable female chef to emerge in the last decade in Minnesota has been Tanya Siebenaler of Sapor. Until now.

Tom Crann: Until now?

DMG: Yes. I bring good news. While restaurant critics like me were busy applauding all the young male chefs up and coming, a new generation of female chefs moved into prominent positions.

Stephanie Kochlin was Lenny Russo's right-hand at Heartland for seven years, and now she's in charge of the kitchen at 50th and France's Pig and Fiddle, making things like giant pots of mussels cooked entirely in Belgian ale, and finished with butter.

Lisa Hanson is about to open a restaurant on the south side of downtown Minneapolis called Mona's; she used to cook at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, so all of foodie Minneapolis is aflutter.

Ann Kim took herself to pizza school in San Francisco and came back to open Pizzeria Lola, one of the new restaurants of the year. And Jamie Malone is only 29, and she was appointed by Tim McKee to run Sea Change, one of the country's most important sustainable seafood restaurants.

Tom Crann: Seems like quite a few.

DMG: Yes, out of nowhere. And I'm particularly intrigued by the way that this new generation is making life-work balance work with the demands of a restaurant.

At the Dakota they've appointed co-chefs: one of them, Kristin Tyborski, has a six-month-old baby, and the other, Derik Moran, is about to become a father. Job shares are something that's pretty common in corporate America, but rare in kitchens.

Tyborski was sous chef at Solera, and the two of them are both really promising, brilliant young chefs, and that they're both going to proceed with their careers and have children is something of a revolution.

Tom Crann: But this revolution isn't confined to the Twin City metropolitan area?

Andrea Baumgardner, Steve Heiland
Breads at the Green Market Kitchen in downtown Fargo are made on premises with whole ingredients as is all food offerings. Pictured in the kitchen on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012 are chef Andrea Baumgardner and Steve Heiland, background. The Green Market is owned by Baumgardner, Heiland and Peter Kelly.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News

DMG: No. Let's talk about Fargo, N.D., and a restaurant a few blocks from the Minnesota border. That's where Andrea Baumgardner is cooking at a little place called the Green Market.

Baumgardner has a great story: She grew up in Fargo, came to the Twin Cities to go to Macalester, went to cooking school in San Francisco, cooked at Chez Panisse, and opened the hottest restaurant in Los Angeles of 2001, Cobras and Matadors. One of the owners was from the rock band Tool.

Baumgardner decided to return to Fargo, because the quality of life is, as she told me, charming. Her restaurant is open Wednesday through Saturday, she serves North Dakota grass-pastured beef and lamb, chickens from a Hutterite colony in Hawley, Minn., and has enough time in her life that she gets to see her three-year-old.

Tom Crann: How are you going to keep them down in Hollywood once they've seen Fargo-Moorhead.

DMG: Exactly. It makes me feel really hopeful about the future of Minnesota dining. What does Fargo/Moorhead have that Los Angeles doesn't? Or Minnesota, generally? If the answer is the ability to give female chefs the opportunity to do the cooking they want to do and have the life and family they want to have, that's potentially a game changer.

Tom Crann: Is the antidote to small-town brain drain bison hanger steaks? We'll have to have you back in a generation and find out.

Mentioned in this story:

Green Market; 69 4th St N., Fargo, ND (701) 241-6000;
Saga Hill Cooking School; 2400 N 2nd St., Mpls., 612.281.1846;
Sea Change, 806 S. Second St., Mpls., 612-225-6499;
Pizzeria Lola, 5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Mpls., 612.424.8338;
Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, 1010 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612.332.1010;
Pig & Fiddle; 3812 W. 50th St., Mpls.; 952-955-8385;
Spoonriver; 750 S. 2nd St., Mpls.,612.436.2236;
Lucia's, 1428 W. 31st St., Mpls., 612.825.9800,
Sapor, 428 Washington Ave. N. Mpls., 612-375-1971;
The Salty Tart, 920 E. Lake St., Minneapolis, 612-874-9206
Chez Jude; 411 W. Hwy. 61, Grand Marais, 218-387-9113

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