DeRusha Eats: Bloomington’s Lela

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – One of the Twin Cities most celebrated chefs, who once owned his own 4-star fine-dining restaurant, is now running a restaurant that’s attached to a hotel in south suburban Bloomington.

Lela is not where anyone expected his career would end up after more than 30 years.

Stewart Woodman grew up in Montreal; he cooked with giant chefs like Danny Meyer, Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten before moving to Minneapolis.

“I was a terrible student. I couldn’t do anything else. I sucked at everything I did except cooking. It wasn’t like we thought we were going to be famous celebrity chefs or anything, most of us were just losers that needed a job,” Woodman said.

But Woodman did become a celebrity chef, thanks to his creativity and his outsized personality. He owned Heidi’s, a 4-star restaurant that burned down, with his now ex-wife before rising again in Uptown.

Today, Woodman is bringing his considerable creativity, talent and some of his long-time cooks to Lela. All the deliciousness with half of the pressure.

“When I owned a restaurant, it was like ‘Oh, man we had a slow week. We gotta come up with something. We gotta make a press release. Where’s Jason?’ Here, it’s like ‘OK, it was spring break. We had a slow week. Let’s move on.’ It’s OK,” he said.

Lela also cooks for room service and catering at the nearby Sheraton Bloomington Hotel. Although, because “hotel restaurants” seem to have trouble catching on in the Twin Cities, the restaurant is careful to point out that it is “adjacent” to the Sheraton.

Either way, that steady, reliable income lets them provide more value to customers. For example, they can afford to make fresh pasta all day every day.

Lobster Truffle Gnocchi is one of the delicious pasta dishes, served with pancetta, mushrooms and asparagus, for less than $20.

“It’s executed at a very high level. Honestly, what more do you want,” Woodman said.

Along with serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Lela is doing special events to take advantage of its gifted chef. A couple times a month the ten-seat chef’s counter becomes a laboratory for Woodman and his team. They host an “omakase dinner” with seven courses, including wine pairings, for $65.

“Omakase is a Japanese concept where the chef makes the choice,” Woodman said. “We have a great deal of fun with it. We really can do things you couldn’t necessarily get on a menu, like fresh sea urchin. You couldn’t necessarily put that on a menu on a broad scale, but you can certainly do it for 20 people,” he said.

Lela is a beautiful restaurant, which Woodman said is a good thing and a bit of a challenge for drawing the neighborhood crowd.

“‘Hey, you’re super fancy-pants, it’s over the top and too expensive.’ It’s not. We have entrees for $13 or $14. I’m able to offer that value, because we’re attached to a hotel,” Woodman said.

He serves the neighborhood, the hotel guests and those of us who’ve followed his cooking for years.

“I’m able to be extremely creative. There’s always something different. It’s very fun. Very fun,” he said.

Lela Restaurant is located at 5601 W. 78th Street in Bloomington.

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