Reporting Sara Pelissero
To say it’s been a crazy year for Chef Jamie Malone would be quite the understatement.
Not only was she a semi-finalist for the coveted “Rising Star Award” from the James Beard Foundation but she was named one of the Best New Chefs by Food & Wine Magazine and hand-selected to the new culinary board for the Norwegian Seafood Council.
Luckily for us, serving the theater-goers and locals at her Minneapolis restaurant Sea Change is still very much her priority — and it’s clear that even with all the high praise she’s gotten, and rightly deserved, it hasn’t gone to her head one bit.
As part of the Council, Malone spent a week in Norway with the five other chefs who comprise the culinary board to learn about Norway’s sustainably sourced seafood — and how to bring that product to our landlocked state. They toured salmon and halibut farms and got a first-hand look at the process to bring high-quality fish products to restaurants across the globe.
Before introducing us to a limited-time tasting menu inspired by her travels, we wanted to check in with Malone to talk about being a top new chef, serving food royalty at the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen and what she learned in Norway.
It’s been quite a year for you since we last spoke in February. Let’s start with Food and Wine naming you among the Best New Chefs for 2013 – what was that experience like? How did you find out?
Dana Cowen makes the calls personally. It’s funny – I get terrible reception, my cell phone in the kitchen it’s really terrible so I missed her phone call 17 times in a row. Like, three days she kept calling and kept calling. I didn’t know it was her but it was from New York. I called back and it was American Express Publishing so then you’re like, ‘OK, Food and Wine.’ But I still didn’t think so. But I was like, ‘OK, keep my phone on me, just try not to miss the phone call.’ Still missed it like, 100 times but then finally, I got it. And she said, ‘Jamie, this is Dana Cowen’ and it was crazy.
What were your initial reactions to being named a top new chef?
I don’t know. It was just really surreal. It was just kind of like, ‘Ok, I don’t really get that but it’s awesome.’
And then you went out to Aspen to participate at the Food and Wine Classic. What was that like?
That’s a crazy event. … It’s huge. It’s awesome. Every night there are parties, everywhere. And everywhere you go, it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s Tom Colicchio. There’s José Andrés.’ You know, just like eating breakfast. (Laughs) And I’m like dying inside. So you’re just trying to walk around and not lose your mind all the time, like, trying to be cool. So they put your prep up in the St. Regis hotel and you prep in this basement. It’s a huge hotel, all kinds of kitchens going on and they’re full, so they’re under full operation. So you don’t have any room to work. And this kitchen is an employee staff room, so we’re working on Bunsen burners, trying to prep for 1,000 people.
And it’s 1,000, like, big time people.
Right, you don’t want to screw this up. So mostly you’re in the basement prepping for 10 hours a day and then you go out at night. It was wild. It was definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
What were a few highlights, if you can narrow it down, from that trip?
Ah, the big highlight was … so you go on for one hour and then it’s like 1,000 people just lined up. So you’re just doing plate after plate after plate and you never look up and then my sous chef elbowed me and was like, ‘(whispers) Jamie,’ and I look up and there’s José Andrés eating a plate of my food. And then he ate like three in a row so I was like, ‘OK, we’re good.’
How has that experience – being named a Best New Chef, plus meeting and cooking with such incredible fellow chefs – inspired you? Has it changed the way you approach your kitchen here?
It’s really humbling. Because you’re around all of these people who have worked so hard and contributed so much to what we do. And all of these people that you’ve just spent your life trying to emulate or learn from or read their books. So yeah, it’s really humbling, intimidating and I think I came back feeling a heavy weight of, like, you want to earn that. It’s been an intense year. And then of course, you’re busier than you’ve ever been on top of everything.
And then you toured Norway for a week with the Norwegian Seafood Council. What was that experience like?
Well it was really cool. One of the things I lament the most about being as busy as I am with this restaurant is that I don’t have enough time, and we’re not on the coast, so I feel really disconnected – I know a lot about the fish I’m getting in but I feel really disconnected from it. There’s a lot to learn about fish and it’s hard to get information because there’s a lot of money involved so some of the information is information that we’re supposed to be getting and not necessarily the information you want. So to have that opportunity to go and see these fish farms – and when you go and you sign on, you don’t have to say ‘I believe in this,’ you’re just going to learn. So to see these farms where people are doing it in a way that I think is a good thing is super exciting.
When you were approached to be on the Norwegian Seafood Council’s culinary board, what was it about the group that made you want to be a part of it?
I think just seeing the time that they’ve put in – and obviously there’s a lot of money to research how fish are farmed, so that to me is a big draw because there’s a lot of work to do with fish farmers in the world and you know, one of our big objectives here is how to keep the oceans providing us with food. I think Norge is making really huge strides so it’s exciting to be part of that. And to bring it to the United States, where more people can realize it and make it more accessible.
You’ve brought back a lot of inspiration, as well as the product itself, from your travels in Norway. Can you talk a little about the special Nordic Cuisine Tasting menu that you’re offering?
I wanted it to be a progression because that’s always the most important thing for me with a menu, that it’s a whole, one complete thing, it’s not just a series of dishes. So obviously I wanted to use the salmon, the farmed salmon and farmed halibut, which is super awesome. I use a few inspirations from events that happened in Norway. But mostly, I tried to make it a Sea Change menu. I don’t have a deep understanding of Norwegian food so it didn’t make sense to me to try to recreate that and we didn’t do a ton of dining so there wasn’t a lot of, ‘OK, I want to do this.’ There’s a few things but mostly it’s a Sea Change menu, using the gorgeous product that we got to eat there.
A look at the tasting menu …
[Course 1: Red king crab with black garlic and cucumber]
[Course 2: Salmon belly, apple broth, beet and yogurt]
[Course 3: Roasted halibut with fennel, olive and orange]
[Course 4: Salmon with sauerkraut, bacon and mustard]
[Course 5: Date streusel tart, honey ice cream and orange cornmeal pound cake]
The Sea Change Norwegian Seafood Council Tasting Menu will be offered until Sept. 12. It’s five courses and $75 per person, wine pairings are an additional $20. For more information about Sea Change, click here. For more information about the Norwegian Seafood Council, click here.