By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Amy Thielen’s My North
In 2014, Park Rapids chef and writer Amy Thielen’s cookbook, The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes, won the James Beard Foundation Book Award for American Cooking. Earning the Oscar of the food world was a major milestone for Thielen, but James Beard recognition is nothing new for Minnesota chefs. Here in Minnesota, JBFA wins are about as commonplace as walleye pike on a fine dining menu. Here are a handful of the places you can eat right now that are run by JBFA winning chefs.
When Alex Roberts won Best Chef Midwest in 2010 for his work at Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis’s Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, it had been more than a decade since a Minnesota chef or restaurant had made it to the podium at the JBFAs. Alma itself just underwent a major overhaul that added a seven room boutique hotel above it, as well as a more casual cafe component, but the fine dining restaurant is just as vital as ever, working with an ever-changing prix fix menu that delivers refined, original takes on classis American dishes. If you’re not in the mood to go all in at Restaurant Alma, catch Roberts’ cooking at his nouveau southern comfort food emporium, Brasa Premium Rotisserie, which has locations in Northeast Minneapolis and on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.
Just a year after Alex Roberts broke the Twin Cities JBFA draught, Isaac Becker kept the streak alive by earning the title of Best Chef Midwest in 2011 for his work at 112 Eatery. Becker’s tiny Minneapolis warehouse district cafe has been serving elevated comfort food (including one of the best cheeseburgers in town made with prime ribeye topped with brie cheese on an English muffin) since 2005 and still hasn’t lost a step. If you’re looking for something different, hit Becker’s contemporary Italian restaurant, Bar La Grassa, in the North Loop or head south to his Lowry Hill steakhouse/pizzeria, Burch.
Bloomington born and raised chef Gavin Kaysen made his JBFA splash while still working in NYC for internationally acclaimed French chef, Daniel Bouloud, winning the 2008 Rising Star award for his work at Café Bouloud. So when Kaysen moved home just a few years later, the food world took notice and the Twin Cities rejoiced. He hasn’t won a JBFA award here just yet but his budding local empire that includes haute American foodery Spoon & Stable in Minneapolis’s North Loop and the just-opened French-inspired bistro and bakery Bellecour on Wayzata’s Lake Street is sure to bring in a gold sometime soon.
Before being tapped by the Dayton brothers to help open their ambitious, Nordic-influenced restaurant and speakeasy cocktail bar combination (The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar, respectively), Paul Berglund was an unassuming chef at the St. Paul fine dining mainstay, WA Frost. Fast forward a few years and in 2016 Berglund was recognized as Best Chef Midwest for his work at The Bachelor Farmer. After visiting the main restaurant and indulging in its daily-changing, locally sourced modern plates, wander around the building to find the unmarked basement speakeasy, Marvel Bar, for the signature Oliveto. For a more casual, counter-service experience, stop by the Bachelor Farmer Café during the day for delicate pastries and freshly-brewed coffees.