Chef Gavin Kaysen doesn’t let expectations get in the way of growth

The award-winning chef and restaurateur is an outside-the-box thinker and it continues to serve him well.
Gavin Kaysen's restaurant Mara in the Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis opened earlier this year with a Mediterranean-inspired menu. /Photo courtesy of Soigne Hospitality.

For eight years, Gavin Kaysen was Daniel Boulud’s director of culinary, running Café Boulud and rising to become an award-winning chef in his own right. He considered New York City as the place to be to advance his career and gain recognition; one of the culinary capitals of the world.

But Kaysen eventually started thinking outside the box, deciding that he didn’t have to be hemmed in by geography or limited by traditional expectations. He shares that realization and other lessons learned on a recent MenuFeed podcast and talks about how he continues to grow his Minneapolis-based restaurant company, Soigne Hospitality.

There’s a hunger for deliciousness throughout the country

“I never planned to come back to Minneapolis, but saw an exciting opportunity here,” said Kaysen. “You don’t have to be in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles to make your mark as a chef. Our profession has changed so much over the last years, geography no longer matters.”

Kaysen returned to his hometown of Minneapolis because he saw an exciting culinary path forward, and eight years ago, opened his first restaurant, Spoon and Stable. “Ironically, I have gotten more national press and recognition since I’ve been back than I ever did in New York.”

Look at what came before to bring us where we are today

Spoon and Stable was carved out of a former horse stable which was later turned into an office building. When Kaysen first saw it, the boardroom is where the bar now stands and former cubicles are now the kitchen. But he could visualize a restaurant, and loved the high ceilings, brick walls and the character of the space.

“Taking over old spaces speaks to the ethos of my life,” said Kaysen. “We’re so quick to take old buildings down, but I like to look at what came before us as to why we are what we are.”

A multi-channel hospitality business operates like a big company in any sector

Along with Spoon and Stable, Kaysen operates Demi, a fine dining restaurant with a tasting menu format, two restaurants in the Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis —Socca Cafe and Mara—and a couple of locations of Bellecour, a French-style bakery.

He also runs two catering companies. KZ Provisioning caters meals for professional athletes, including the Minnesota Wild hockey team and Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team, providing chef-inspired food that enhances performance with personalized nutrition plans. Spoon Thief Catering, which just launched in July, does small events and private dinner parties in people’s homes.

All fall under Soigne Hospitality, which Kaysen operates like a CEO would any company. “We have an incredible team and an incredible infrastructure with a lot of high-level executives who help run all of this on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “As a chef, I no longer cook for service; my role is menu R&D and teaching my cooks.”

book cover

Self-publishing a cookbook is the way to retain control

“At Home,” Kaysen’s first cookbook, is a collection of recipes that came out of his virtual cooking classes held during the pandemic. “It was a way to create community, and at times, up to 1,500 people participated. After an hour, they could have dinner on the table,” he said

Over the course of a year, Kaysen had demonstrated about 60 recipes and he figured that by adding 50 more, he could create his own cookbook. He also included some of his family’s favorites, such as his grandma Dorothy’s pot roast and Sunday’s special, chicken and dumplings.

“We owned all the content and decided to self-publish the book. We didn’t go the traditional publishing route, which I’m very grateful for,” he said. The book came out this fall and immediately sold out of the first printing. The second print will come out in early 2023.

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