For more than 20 years, Kim Christensen cooked for the stars. Well, the stars of Minnesota. Her business Film Food catered for the cast and crew of local film companies. Food became intertwined in her life. And then, just like that, she was ready for a change.
“I loved every single day of Film Food. But when I turned 50 something changed,” Christensen explains. “It was almost overnight. I was just ready for the next thing.”
She felt called to replace her pots and pans with yarn and crochet needles, and swapped her kitchen for a knitting store. Loving this new passion, Christensen began teaching at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts, nestled on Lake Minnetonka. Content with what she thought was a permanent gig, Christensen settled into her new role.
And then she got a life-changing phone call.
“The director at the center remembered my resume when they had a change in the café [staff],” Christensen recalls. “She said, ‘Kim, can we chat about deepening your connection with the center?’ ”
Christensen chuckles. “When I stepped into that kitchen and put on an apron, that was it.”
Christensen, now the from-scratch chef at the MCFTA’s café, approaches her cooking like an art. She’s aware of the textures, the aromas, the colors. And it’s always a hands-on project. With the new open kitchen in the cafe, she’s definitely in her element.
“When my customers come in, they walk up to the kitchen counter and can see everything I’m doing,” she says. “It’s like a ceramic studio: They see colanders full of vegetables, piles of fresh, red apples, all my raw materials. It’s all part of the experience, and in an art center, that’s perfect.”
Students at the art center come from all across the Twin Cities. Many are retired professionals who’ve had a career and now have extra time and want to do something creative. They also thrive by being part of something bigger—a new kind of community.
“Students come in with paint all over them ... they have clay under their nails,” Christensen says, comparing the café to a student union with birch tables and big windows. “They want something delicious and wonderful, but also a chance to sit with their friends. They want to nourish their creative spirits.”
Christensen prepares everything from scratch, including apple chutney, butternut squash soup and parsley vinaigrette, often using locally sourced ingredients when possible. While she directs the kitchen, her assistant Angie Nesbitt provides the customer service that the students have come to appreciate and expect.
“It gets busy in here, and with just two people working in the kitchen, it can be overwhelming,” Christensen says. “But fortunately Angie does the work of three people. She’s so energetic. If there’s a line, she’s there chatting with people, finding out what we can start for them, what they like.”
Says Roxanne Heaton, executive director at MCFTA, “Kim has a lovely, welcoming way that makes everyone she serves feel like they are the most important person in the world when they are standing at her counter. The café is an essential part of the art center experience, and Kim does an incredible job of providing a wholesome, carefully prepared array of options for our diners’ pleasure. Plus, her cookies are the best!”
The public is welcome to dine at the café Monday through Friday. Christensen and Nesbitt suggest making a date of it: lunch, then browsing in the gift shop and gallery, taking in the breathtaking local art.
This dynamic duo has big plans for the café. They would love to use their cooking space as teaching space and offer classes.
“We’re still doing art, but it’s more performance art,” Christensen explains, adding, “We set up, cook, clean and look good doing it.”
Vist the Minnetonka Center for the Arts website for more information.