Reporting Sara Pelissero
The Twin Cities are blessed when it comes to talent in the kitchen. The culinary minds at the helm of our favorite restaurants receive critical acclaim and top honors from food enthusiasts and reviewers, alike. But who are the people behind the chef’s coat? Our Chef’s Profile aims to find out.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when they ask themselves the million-dollar question: “If I had all the money in the world, what would I do?”
For Chef Jamie Malone, that question came up while working at her family’s bead shop — and the answer took her career in a new direction.
Malone, a St. Paul native, said she’s always had a passion for cooking but it wasn’t until she answered that question that she realized, even with millions of dollars, she wanted to be a line cook.
Soon after, Malone quickly climbed the ranks, working hard, putting in the hours and finding herself among the top chefs of the Twin Cities. As Chef de Cuisine of Sea Change, she’s turning seafood into works of art — and receiving high accolades for doing so.
Though you wouldn’t know it by talking to her. She’s a quiet, reserved chef, who admits she has insecurities and doesn’t hide the fact that her mentor, Chef Tim McKee, still makes her a bit nervous.
We sat down to chat with the chef about where it all began and how she’s embracing her nerdy tendencies.
When did you know you wanted to go into the culinary world?
I think probably from my dad. He wasn’t a cook but he cooked at home a lot. And that’s something that we did together a lot. And then I forgot about it for a while until I got married and I started cooking for my husband. And then all I could think about was what I’m going to make for dinner. I’ve always run restaurants, and worked in restaurants, so it all kind of came together probably when I was about 22.
What was your first memorable meal?
Oh wow. That’s really hard to think about. I think probably, it’s not one specific meal but being a kid and doing holidays, like going out with your family. It was a special time because you’re going out with your family and family friends and it’s dark out so it feels like it’s late at night and I think that’s when I mostly fell in love with restaurants. So that’s a big point for me.
Was there a moment when you realized, “This is what I want to do for a living?”
Yeah, I was running a bead store with my mom and sister, that we owned together and I had already decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. I enjoyed it, but I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. It’s kind of cheesy, but I asked myself that question, ‘If you had millions of dollars, what would you do?’ And I thought, oh, well, I’d just become a cook – a line cook. Sounds pretty awesome. It was just out of the blue.
Tell us a little about your training and education that led to your position now.
I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Mendota Heights, and then I interned with Tim (McKee) at La Belle Vie, they didn’t have anything open but Bill Fairbanks, the sous chef at the time, recommended I call Steven Brown and ask for a job at Porter and Frye, so I did. When I left Porter and Frye, I went to open Barrio, when Tim was still a part of Barrio. So I kind of rekindled that connection and I’ve been with Tim pretty much ever since then.
From that first time that you met Tim to now, what’s that relationship been like?
It evolves. It’s definitely changed since I been in this position. Tim, just, he makes me nervous. (Laughs) I mean, it’s Tim. He’s the guy. Less nervous now, though. I’m gaining more confidence around him. It definitely evolves to more of a … I mean, he’s always been a mentor but I’m a lot more comfortable asking him for things when I need him. Things like that.
What inspires your cooking? What is it that motivates you?
I’m inspired by things that I enjoy. I just try to think upon experiences that I have loved – or that I love – and try to instill that in a guest and enrich it. Like the idea of smelling something in spring and thinking how can I incorporate that into a broth or put it over a fish. Things like that are pretty inspirational to me. I’m visually inspired, too, definitely by things I see.
The menu at Sea Change obviously has a heavy emphasis on seafood. Is that something you grew up enjoying?
My dad cooked a lot of fish, yeah, which was like scary for everyone who came over for dinner because we lived in Minnesota and it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re having salmon loaf.”
And the menu has also been hailed as one of the best for seafood — what is your thought process and approach to bringing new items to the menu?
Reading, a ton. A ton of reading. Whenever I can, I travel and eat, which my company really supports – which is awesome, I’m super lucky. Talking to other chefs. Not being afraid of other ingredients, trying to source them. But mainly, reading and connecting with other chefs is the best way to do that.
What is that like for you to receive such praise?
I feel this constant sense of responsibility towards it.
You’ve been described as a food nerd before – what do you think that mean?
Maybe not really a food nerd, just a nerd. A book nerd. A science nerd. It’s like all these things that I really like to read about and learn about can all pertain to food. I’m so lucky because maybe I don’t feel like thinking about food but I can learn about the science of food or the culture, the art, all that stuff. Yeah, I mean, I just like reading and learning and understanding things.