If you’ve been paying any attention, you know that celebrated Twin Cities chef Gavin Kaysen is having a big year: two new eateries (Mara and Socca, situated in the shiny new Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis), a new baby (his third son, Crosby, born in June), a new catering company (the aptly named Spoon Thief) and soon, a new cookbook. That’s in addition, may I remind you, to his other Soigné Hospitality ventures: Spoon and Stable, Demi, Bellecour Bakery, and KZ ProVisioning, the pro athlete catering company he runs with pal Andrew Zimmern that fuels sports teams like the Minnesota Wild, Timberwolves and Lynx.
At this point, you (like me) may be wondering how in the hell Kaysen manages to get all this done. If you ask him this very pointedly (like I did), he’ll demure — and credit the incredible team he’s built, now some 160 people. Plus, he says, it’s the example set for him by mentors and friends, like Daniel Boulud and Andrew Carmellini.
“When I worked for Daniel, I was always like, ‘How does he do it?’” Kaysen recalls. “We’d be on a trip to Paris together to cook at an event. Then we’d land back in New York City at whatever time, and the driver would bring Daniel to his restaurant, which he lived above. I wanted to go to bed, but he’d go into work.”
Then there’s Andrew Carmellini, the chef behind some 15 New York City eateries. “I remember him telling me that when you go from restaurant one to restaurant two, it’s a lot harder than going from two to three, three to four, four to five,” he explains. “And it’s true. From a business perspective, when you go from one to two, it’s really tough because you don’t have any infrastructure set up. But when you add the third, fourth and fifth business, you can build that infrastructure.”
This is when Kaysen mentions a hat we don’t often think of him wearing: CEO. “What’s tough about the restaurant business is people don’t see chefs as CEO types; they see us as artist types,” he says. Another hat we don’t often think of chefs wearing? Family man, which Kaysen decidedly is.
In fact, his familial influences — particularly Grandma Dorothy — are what prompted his culinary journey that we’ve all been lucky enough to witness. He pays tribute to her in his new cookbook, At Home, out this fall. As the title indicates, it’s all about Kaysen cooking in his own kitchen.
He tells me a quick side story: how just two years into Spoon and Stable’s meteoric rise, he was working on a cookbook with a big publisher, but it didn’t feel right. He wasn’t ready to immortalize the restaurant onto paper at that point. Now, with the wisdom of the better part of a decade and all those various business ventures, it feels right.
But this book isn’t about how he cooks at his restaurants; it’s about how he cooks at home, for and with his family. “Truthfully, cooking at home for me is a very, very peaceful experience, and I need to do it every week,” he shares. “I don’t do yoga, but I imagine it’s like when people do yoga. I meditate a lot, and it’s a form of meditation for me. If I have a lot on my mind, I’ll cook for three or four hours, just doing meal prep for Linda and the boys.”
Those meditations come in the form of paella (a frequent family request), chicken and dumplings, and Grandma Dorothy’s sunbuckle cookies. She passed before she was able to see Kaysen’s success, but he honors her with little touches at his storied establishments, like the tins filled with cookies that conclude a meal at Spoon and Stable.
In fact, making sunbuckle cookies alongside her when he was just 7 years old is one of his earliest baking memories. “What inspired me to cook food for a living really started with her,” Kaysen says. “I remember making food and seeing how that act brought all of our families together to sit down at a table. As a child, I thought that was a really powerful experience. That was my aha moment — realizing food is a vehicle to bring people together — and I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Of course, that’s easy to say when you’re a world-class chef. What about the rest of us? Kaysen has us covered with step-by-step recipe videos (thanks to his popular pandemic-era initiative, GK at Home), plus he gives plenty of kitchen pointers throughout the book. His top tips for success: get yourself properly set up, give yourself plenty of time and do your best to source the best ingredients. Because in reality, “if you have really great salt, really great vinegars, really sharp knives and a cutting board, you’re basically there,” he notes.
Beyond the recipes and the advice, Kaysen tells me, he hopes his cookbook has one clear takeaway: “It’s really about that experience my grandmother taught me, which was put the ingredients together, make a delicious meal and bring everybody to the table. That’s the beauty of cooking.”
Dorothy’s Chicken and Dumplings
Makes 4 servings
This homey, comforting soup is one of the first dishes my grandmother taught me how to make. At the time, I didn’t realize just how many techniques it was teaching me: how to make chicken stock, how to cut various vegetables, how to make and use a roux, and so on. I like making this soup for dinner parties because I can make it ahead, then serve individual portions in little Staub cocotte dishes.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup buttermilk
¼ cup avocado oil (or canola oil)
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs and breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup white pearl onions, peeled and halved
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1 small rutabaga, peeled and diced
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 quart chicken stock
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
1. For the dumplings: In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Make a well in the dry mixture. Slowly drizzle in buttermilk and stir gently with a fork; batter should stick together but remain a bit wet. Use your hands to gather batter together into a dough. Cover with a wet towel and set aside.
2. For the stew: In a 4-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding, sear chicken on all sides until browned but not cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add onion, carrot and rutabaga, and season with salt. Cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.
3. Reduce heat and add butter and flour. Cook until flour is lightly browned and has a nutty fragrance, about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and scrape bottom of pan to deglaze. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, season with salt and pepper, and cook 10 minutes. Bring heat up to a gentle boil, add sour cream and whisk to combine.
4. Scoop a dollop of dumpling batter into pot so it rests atop liquid; repeat with remaining batter. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook 5 minutes. Flip each dumpling, replace lid, and cook 3 to 5 minutes longer (dumplings will turn a shade whiter when finished). Season stew to taste with salt.
5. To serve, divide stew among bowls, sprinkle with parsley and enjoy.
Dorothy’s Sunbuckle Cookies
Makes 16 to 20 cookies
These cookies, as their name suggests, were an integral part of my grandmother’s culinary repertoire. Everyone looked forward to them at Christmas time — us kids would scoop ice cream into the center and use them as miniature bowls — and my family still makes them every holiday season. Sunbuckles are similar in texture to sugar cookies, but a touch more doughy; Dorothy liked hers crispy around the edges and slightly soft in the middle.
Sunbuckles are also the first thing I remember cooking with my grandma. I recall rolling the dough out on her ironing board (it was the largest flat surface in her house) and pushing it into her vintage tins. Anytime I would make a mistake (and I made many), Grandma Dorothy would give me permission to say “shit” and tell me that “next time it’ll be better.” Great advice from a legendary grandmother.
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp. vanilla extract
powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl using a hand mixer, mix butter, flour, sugar, egg and vanilla until combined. Refrigerate dough about 30 minutes so it firms up and is easier to handle.
2. Roll dough into medium balls, appropriately sized to fit a cookie tin or a tartlet mold. Use a scale and weigh dough for the most accurate way of achieving consistent cookies. (Our tins fit 1½-ounce dough balls.)
3. Place each ball into a cookie tin and press dough into bottom of tin with your fingertips. It should be about ¼ inch thick and come about ½ inch up sides of tin, forming a cup shape.
4. Bake until cookies are golden brown on top but still slightly doughy in center, about 15 minutes.
5. Let cookies cool in tins until cool enough to handle. Gently squeeze tins or tap with a knife to help them release. Dust cookies with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve. Cookies can be stored at room temperature up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 months.
The Perfect Pot Roast with Kale and Squash Salad
Makes 3 to 4 servings
Pot roast is a very nostalgic dish for me and by far my most published recipe (you can find versions of it all over the Internet). It was one of my grandmother Dorothy’s two signature dishes, and she’d make it anytime we visited her, no matter the season. It was also one of the first recipes I ever cooked from start to finish as a kid, and the first dish I put on the menu at Spoon and Stable, where you’ll still find it today. The great chef Sean Brock always says that in the South, nothing can compete with your grandmother’s corn bread, and I feel the same about pot roast in the Midwest: Dorothy’s is the best, and every time I eat it, I feel like she’s giving me a big hug. Pot roast certainly works as a meal by itself, but I like to pair it with a salad made with the contrasting textures of raw and roasted kale, dressed with a tangy buttermilk vinaigrette.
The Perfect Pot Roast
2 pounds boneless beef top blade roast
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 small rutabaga (about 8 ounces), peeled and cut into 12 to 16 pieces
4 cremini mushrooms, halved
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 head garlic, top trimmed to expose cloves
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary
¾ cup red wine, preferably cabernet
2 cups beef broth or stock
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Season meat generously with salt and pepper.
2. In a large Dutch oven or other heavy ovenproof pot with a lid, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add meat and sear until a dark crust forms, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
3. Reduce heat to medium and add butter to pot. Melt butter and add all vegetables and garlic, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot, until vegetables start to color, 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until it darkens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add bay leaves, rosemary and wine, and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to a thick gravy consistency, 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Return meat to pot. Add broth, cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until roast is very tender and starts to fall apart when you lift it, about 2 hours and 20 minutes.
5. Let roast sit at room temperature at least 10 minutes. Transfer meat to a cutting board and carve into 1½-inch slices. Skim fat from surface of stew. Discard bay leaves and rosemary stems. Squeeze any garlic cloves remaining in their skins into stew and discard skins.
6. To serve, lay slices of roast in shallow bowls along with vegetables and a generous amount of cooking liquid ladled over top. Serve with Kale and Squash Salad (recipe follows).
Kale and Squash Salad
¼ cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
fine sea salt
8 oz. Tuscan kale, washed, dried and stems removed
olive oil, for drizzling
fine sea salt
ground white pepper
1 large acorn squash, quartered and seeded
½ tsp. light brown sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup Marcona almonds, toasted and lightly crushed
1. Make the buttermilk vinaigrette: In a blender, purée buttermilk, vinegar and mustard until well combined. With machine running on low, stream in oil until smooth. Season with salt. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Make the salad: Preheat oven to 220°F. Line a sheet pan with foil. Arrange 1/3 of kale in a single layer, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with salt and white pepper. Transfer to oven and bake until crispy, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
3. Meanwhile, put remaining kale in a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and gently massage kale about 2 minutes to tenderize it. Increase oven temperature to 375°F. Line a second sheet pan with foil. Lay squash skin-side down on lined pan. In a small bowl, combine 1 tsp. salt, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper. Rub butter onto squash flesh and sprinkle evenly with spice mix.
4.Transfer sheet pan to oven and bake until squash is tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven, and once cool enough to handle, peel squash and cut into 2-inch cubes. Add crispy kale to bowl with raw kale. Add almonds and some of buttermilk vinaigrette and toss well. Divide onto plates and top with squash. Drizzle with more vinaigrette and serve.