Le chef et le bistro
Gavin Kaysen is sanguine about the whole “celebrity chef” thing, but I have to ask: Does it get old? Does he get recognized whenever he’s out and about? “I don’t really think about it, honestly,” he says. “I’ll be out with my family, out for lunch, and somebody will walk up to me and say, ‘Chef, it’s nice to see you—we love Bellecour.’ I’m just appreciative that they eat at our restaurant. For me, there’s nothing more humbling than to look around my restaurant on a Tuesday night and see it full of people.” When Kaysen started sharing his business plan for Bellecour, his French eatery in Wayzata (it opened in March), he met with some skepticism, especially because of the suburban location. “Everyone told me the restaurant would never be full after 8 o’clock, and that we would never have customers on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, because ‘people in Minnesota don’t eat that way,’” he remembers. “I was like, ‘Really? Are you sure?’”
Of course, the skeptics were wrong. Bellecour is bustling until close every night of the week and has had a warm reception from the Wayzata neighborhood and serious Twin Cities foodies and critics alike. Even so, Kaysen is quick to correct the perception—as it was widely reported when Bellecour opened—that it’s impossible to get a table here. “We have our courtyard with 38 seats, which is for walk-in guests only. So there’s always opportunity to come in and enjoy a meal here when it’s nice outside and the patio is open.” There’s also seating at the cozy bar. The bakery and coffee counter is open until 7 p.m. each evening, except Mondays.
It’s a Friday afternoon, and Kaysen and I are sitting at a table near the bar. A staff member stops by briefly to hand him a demitasse of espresso. Dinner service hasn’t started yet, but the space still feels busy. There’s a constant stream of customers at the bakery. Someone orders six croissants for tomorrow’s breakfast. A man and woman in cycling gear park their bikes outside and sit down with cups of coffee before the next leg of their ride. Friends chat over pastries about their weekend plans. In addition to the usual customers, a TV news crew is here, filming a segment about the restaurant.
Kaysen, for his part, has the businesslike air of a guy whose day started at 9 a.m. and won’t end for at least 12 hours. He has to be all things, every day: back in the kitchen prepping, tasting, cooking and meeting with the culinary staff; sitting for interviews like this one; and keeping an eye on the logistics of his restaurant business, which includes not only Bellecour but also Minneapolis standout Spoon and Stable. I get the sense that every minute of his day must be accounted for. He’s focused on the task of the moment (right now, that’s talking with me) but skilled at switching gears, ready for the next thing on the agenda. “Right now, three or four nights a week, I’m at Bellecour, doing service. The other two nights, I’m at Spoon doing service. Twelve-hour days are normal. In fact,” he adds with a dry laugh, “if I go home early, I feel so guilty.”
It all comes with the territory for Kaysen, whose CV speaks for itself: he’s got accolades from Food + Wine Magazine, awards from the James Beard Foundation, a star from the Michelin Guide. He’s worked at prestigious Cafe Boulud in New York City and represented the U.S. at the Bocuse d’Or (he also served as the head coach of the Bocuse d’Or U.S. team). After all of his national and global success, what brought this Bloomington native back to the Twin Cities? “I was 19 when I left,” he says. “I went to school, then lived in Vermont, Napa Valley, Switzerland, London, Sweden, San Diego, New York City—then finally back home. My wife and I have two awesome kids who are 5 and 8. My profession is not a forgiving profession; I’m not able to be at every soccer game and baseball game. My life, publicly, starts at 5 p.m., and I come to work at 9 or 10 a.m. So having the opportunity to have my kids grow up near my parents, and be near family, was really important.”
Kaysen’s Spoon and Stable opened in 2014 and was an immediate success. Soon, he started thinking about new concepts. “One of the things I realized...was that I just really missed cooking French food,” says Kaysen, who trained extensively in the French style and has spent lots of time in France. “The intention of Spoon and Stable is to break boundaries and invent traditions. Bellecour is about putting ourselves inside a French box and saying, ‘Now, work within those confines.’” Walking into Bellecour really does feel uncannily like entering a Parisian bistro, from the macarons in the pastry case to the music. Kaysen finds a useful analogy: “When you go to a really good movie, you don’t walk out of the theater and say, ‘Oh, I’m in Eden Prairie.’ You’re still in the movie. You have to recalibrate where the hell you are.” He wants dining at Bellecour to be a similarly immersive experience.
So, how did he choose Wayzata for Bellecour’s environs? “We look at spaces and we really feel them out,” Kaysen says. “How does the space feel when you walk in? If it’s a ‘dead’ restaurant, how does it feel?” Bellecour occupies the space that once belonged to seafood eatery Blue Point. “This space felt great, even though Blue Point was ‘deceased.’ I walked in, and I loved the space.” Bellecour’s layout and look were created by David Shea’s Shea, Inc. team and Kaysen’s wife Linda, a designer. They also teamed up with local stone-surface purveyor Cambria, who provided Bellecour’s eye-catching marbled counter- and tabletops. “Marty [Cambria president Marty Davis] and I are friends, so we created a fun opportunity to have his product here,” says Kaysen. “I love it, because it’s a local brand and he’s a local dude.”
He adds, “I love this neighborhood. I love the sort of quaintness to it—the amount of history. I just ran into a guy, as an example, who is here often at the bakery. He said, ‘When I grew up here, McCormick’s used to be a John Deere parking lot.’ Stuff like that is amazing to me. I love being able to talk to people who have that sort of history in this area.” Speaking of McCormick’s, it’s one of Kaysen’s favorite local spots for a bite. “I love the fish and chips; I think they’re delicious. And it’s my son’s favorite place to go. When he wants to go to lunch on the weekend, I bring him there.” Has Kaysen explored lots of other lakeside restaurants since Bellecour opened in the neighborhood? “I don’t get out enough,” he says with a laugh.
Bellecour’s menu changes seasonally, though Kaysen says there will likely be some greatest hits that are always available. Diners clearly can’t go wrong, but if you find yourself torn between a couple of options, why not take it from the guy in charge? Asking a chef to choose a favorite dish is “like asking me which one of my kids I love more,” jokes Kaysen, but he relents a little. “For an appetizer, I really love the smoked salmon. It’s one of my favorite dishes that we do. I love the fois gras au torchon. I love the steak frites from the main courses, and the roast chicken. And the short rib on the bone is phenomenal.”
Never to be forgotten is Bellecour’s bakery, headed by pastry chef Diane Yang, who also works alongside Kaysen as the executive pastry chef at Spoon and Stable. “She is so talented,” Kaysen says. “This is a great opportunity for her to showcase her skills.” I ask Kaysen if he has a favorite Yang creation, and his answer surprises me. “What’s crazy is that I have celiac disease,” he says. The irony of a chef with a gluten intolerance isn’t lost on him. “I do taste everything for a couple of days in a row, and then I’ll start to get sick, so I’ll stop.” Luckily, Yang “does a great gluten-free blueberry muffin. That’s my go-to jam.” In addition to Yang, the bakery team includes a head baker and someone just in charge of laminations, an incredibly specific role. “There are 30 minutes a day when nobody is in this building,” says Kaysen. “By the time the last chef leaves, the baker comes in 30 minutes later at 2 a.m.”
Last but not least: the bar. Robb Jones is the bar director at both Bellecour and Spoon and Stable. “He does an awesome job,” says Kaysen. “It’s a lot of fun. The bar drinks here are meant to be centered around classic French cocktails.” We look over to the bar, where Jones is currently prepping a drink for the TV news film crew. “That one is the Chouette 75,” says Kaysen. “It’s an homage to when this space was the restaurant Chouette in 1977. It’s basically a French 75, but we call it a Chouette to honor the history of the building.”
Des médias sociaux
Between Gavin Kaysen’s personal Instagram account and the two official Instas for Bellecour and Spoon and Stable, he has over 70,000 followers. “We have somebody who does social media full time,” he says. “It gives you an opportunity to create a message on your own, and to craft messages the way we want them to be received.”