Reporting Sara Boyd Pelissero
It’s not that Chef Kris Koch didn’t enjoy the everyday sights and sounds of cooking in a ballpark, but after a year at Target Field, he was ready for a new challenge.
Koch, formerly of 20.21 at the Walker Art Center, said that new challenge presented itself after the Grand Hotel in downtown Minneapolis was rejuvenated as part of the Kimpton chain of luxury hotels.
Koch was approached to sign on as the executive chef of The Six15 Room — a swanky, modern twist on a retro “Men’s Club.” Before long, Koch found himself writing the menu for the brand new bar and restaurant and finding new inspiration in our season’s best local offerings.
According to Charlotte Mahn, director of hospitality and spirits for the Grand Hotel, that was all part of the plan. One of the philosophies at Kimpton is to immerse every aspect within the property to be as local as possible — from the beers on tap to the head chef.
“When we come into markets, we really try to identify with a local community and for our guests, bring in a local experience,” Mahn said.
Koch’s local experience was just what they wanted to bring classic Midwestern flavors and more than a few nods to our state’s favorite dishes.
Koch’s menu features everything from braised Duroc pork shank to walleye tater tots. A simply prepared but packed with flavor smoked trout is served with lemon dill cream cheese and bagel chips (“My own version of a ‘bagel and lox,’” he says). Plus, he puts a twist on classic fried squid with his calamari fries, coated with a crunchy tempura batter and served with spicy, sweet pickled peppers.
He said the menu took about a month to two months to perfect, and heavily relied on what ingredients were fresh and in season.
“We reverse built it, we found what we could get and then we kind of built the menu around playful, interactive, smaller shared plates that would appeal to a broad range of people that wouldn’t alienate someone off the street,” Koch said. “It worked out really nice.”
And he couldn’t help but transfer over a little Target Field flare with his new gig. For the Twins fan stopping by before the big game, Chef Koch has created pretzel pups, served with spicy ketchup.
“I spent the last season at the Twins stadium, so I kind of wanted to keep that feeling going with the Twins fans coming downtown,” he said. “We make the pretzel dough in house, so it’s nothing out of the box.”
With the help of mixologist Troy Tofte, all of Koch’s dishes come alive with perfectly paired signature cocktails.
“Troy and I did have a good relationship. He makes his own pickled ginger and simple syrup. So we had a few tastings in the beginning with the cocktails and the food and things worked out really well,” Koch said. “He knows the menu really extensively so he really knows what to recommend with what drinks.”
The signature drink of the Six15 Room is the bloody mary — a drink so intricate, it took Tofte eight years to get it where he wanted it to be. And truth be told, this is not your average bloody mary. Tofte takes Thai chili infused vodka, his house-made bloody mary mix and to mellow the flavors and add a warm body to the drink, he adds just a touch of Guinness.
“I think it’s pretty fun and it’s not your normal, everyday bloody mary mix. It’s got a punch to it,” Mahn said.
A punch indeed. Even for this bloody mary lover, I must admit, it knocked my socks off. The complexity of flavors from the mix is truly incredible with a new spice barreling through in each sip. Also on the menu, Tofte showed off his whiskey sour martini, made with Jim Beam Black bourbon, lemon, sugar and an egg white — and let’s not forget his finishing touch, a decorative “Six” spelled out on top.
One drink Tofte can’t take credit for is the Orangegasm, which was the winning cocktail created during a GLBT event. The winning team mixed 10cane rum, orange and lime juice, mint leaves and honey simply syrup to create this “intense” treat. Plus, $1 from every cocktail purchased goes to the Aliveness Project, a Twin Cities center that provides services and programs to those in the HIV/AIDS community.
Koch said between the cocktails and the food, initial reactions have been very positive. They’re still getting into the swing of things for now, but the chef said they’re already thinking of what might be around the corner.
“I think definitely as the seasons change a little bit, we’ll progress and when we get settled in and find out what people really like, and things that aren’t moving, we’ll come up with some new inspirations,” he said.
The Six15 Room is located in the lobby of the Grand Hotel, at 615 2nd Ave. S. in Minneapolis. The bar is open from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Sundays. For more information, check out their website.