"We’re tapping into the hardest part of cooking: nostalgia."

By Peter Sieve
February 07, 2018
Photo by Peter Sieve

Gavin Kaysen knows how to run a successful restaurant. Returning to his native Minnesota after years of heading up operations for Daniel Boulud in New York City , Kaysen opened Spoon & Stable in Minneapolis to much fanfare in 2014. This spring, Kaysen opened the bistro and bakery Bellecour on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in Wayzata, Minnesota. With financial backing from French heavyweights Boulud and Jerome Bocuse (and some rando named Thomas Keller), Bellecour is already buzzing.

With the impressive company he keeps, the awards, his boyish good looks, and aw shucks Midwestern sensibilities, Kaysen is the golden boy of the Twin Cities fine-ish dining scene. He dutifully crosses the t’s and dot the i’s in the word hospitality. Which is all well and good—but you’re reading this right now because Bellecour has a bakery up front serving delectable pastries, breads, and sandwiches. I wanted to better understand what Kaysen loves about breakfast, and why the bakery was a key part of his plan for Bellecour. In a dim banquette over morning coffee, I propped an iPhone on the polished crystal that would later deliver wine to the lips of well-heeled reservation holders, and we chatted.

Extra Crispy: The bakery is a big component of what you’re doing at Bellecour. What led you to that decision, as opposed to having breakfast/brunch service?
Gavin Kaysen: We will move to brunch eventually. But the whole idea of why we started the bakery was the design of the space. When I walked into this building, that area was like this really cute spot that had a fireplace, and it seemed cordial and off the beaten path of the old restaurant here [the Blue Point]. It really had a great feeling to it, and figuring that out sort of spawned the bakery. I mean, it’s 250 square feet, and look, it’s packed right now.

Your background is very much French-trained, and you’ve talked about this place being inspired by the town square in Lyon. What’s important to you about having a great bakery?
I think a lot of bakers are sort of tested by the croissant, or baguettes, things that are relatable and that everyone’s had. So many people have gone to Paris, and have had that espresso and croissant—and what’s interesting about that experience is that it might not be just the croissant or the espresso, but it’s the fact that you’re having it in Paris and it sort of transports you. We’ve only been open eight days, right? And I’ve had people say to me, “Thanks for transporting me to Paris here in Wayzata.” Another guest said to me last night that it was the best croissant he’s had since living in Paris. Those are the compliments that are worth gold to me, because it means we’re tapping into the hardest part of cooking: nostalgia.

Photo by Peter Sieve

How important is Diane Yang [award-winning pastry chef of Spoon & Stable] to the bakery here?
Very important. This is a great showcase opportunity for her. We’ve been practicing this type of food for two years now at Spoon & Stable for our brunch, and the bakery here at Bellecour is essentially the full brunch layout at Spoon. 

There’s something essentially community-facing and neighborhood-y about a bakery that’s quite a bit different from a dinner-destination restaurant—more accessibility, lower entry barrier. Is that something that was important to you? For people to be able to come in the morning for coffee and a pastry and to read the paper, and to come back at night for a seafood tower?
When you sell 2,000 reservations on your first day, the perception is that you’re fine dining, hard to get into, not accessible—and it’s not true! First of all, we haven’t released all the tables yet. Second, we have 32 seats in the bar/lounge that allow you to walk in at any given time, sit down, and receive the full menu. You know, and lastly, what's important to me, is that the bakery allows people to come in and see the space now, in this morning light, have a cup of coffee, and just be comfortable in their own skin—and like you said, come back for a bottle of wine and a shellfish tower, you know? 

OK, we’re gonna get really personal here with this next heavy-hitting question, so be prepared.
OK, I’m ready.

Here we go: Are you a breakfast guy?
Oh yeah.

What did you have this morning?
I eat the same exact breakfast every single day: Six slices of bacon, two eggs over easy. 

So that’s your jam, every day?
Yup. Every morning. And then four shots of espresso. And maybe I’ll change it up every six months or so, and when I do, all I’ll eat is like five ounces of pure steak.

What’s your bacon cooking method? Are you an oven guy or stovetop?
Stovetop. Cast iron, save the fat.

Are you meticulous about keeping the bacon slices flat and perfect, or do you just toss ‘em around and let ‘em go?
Nah, I let ‘em go—I like to get it all extra crispy. [ed. note: yes!]

I’m curious about what you, a fancy French chef, order when you’re at an old-school greasy spoon diner. 
I guess it kinda depends on where I am My wife and I were in Charleston, South Carolina, the other week, and you know, shrimp and grits was just screaming my name. You know, because of where we were, how they promoted it, how they sold it to me, all that. It just depends on where I am—at a greasy diner, you sort of yearn for pancakes. You hope those are just like, fluffy and delicious. Like Al’s Diner in Dinkytown. The pancakes there are insane. 

So you let the establishment be your guide. 
Yep. Like, “Tell me what to get! What’s the best?”

Photo by Peter Sieve

Are there any particular trends or movements happening in breakfast and brunch that stand out to you? Anything you see that you totally love or despise?
I think that what’s been a continued trend in the last few years, and won’t slow down in my opinion, is that brunch is just so hot still. It’s a really really big deal. It kind of went from this sort of extravagantly overpriced buffet to extravagantly affordable and delicious. And I think that at the end of the day, it gives me, as a chef, an opportunity to show off something that’s different; bring in a clientele that might not want to come in for dinner; allow an opportunity to create walk-ins; and give guests a chance to experience the space in a different light—because the light in here right now is different than it will be in six hours, you know? I don’t think [the brunch trend] will go away anytime soon. 

Is there anything you won’t put on your brunch menu for any reason? 
Yeah, one thing that’s a very Lyonnaise dish that we’ll probably never do here is andouillette, which is stuffed pig intestines… I mean I love it, but … 

What, the people of Wayzata aren’t ready for pig intestines?
Dude, people in Lyon aren’t ready for pig intestines! [laughter]. When I travel to Lyon, people there are like “what’s that smell?!” And it’s the andouillette. It’s pretty intense.

So back to the idea of old school brunch buffets.
Yeah, I remember as a kid going to the Decathlon Club, you know… 

I remember going to the Sofitel back in the day.
Yes! Chocolate mousse...

Whole smoked salmon sitting there, beef Wellington. 
Yep. A steamship being carved...

The words continental breakfast sort of spark a particular reaction in me. What does “continental breakfast” mean to you?
Sadly, that term has become so bastardized. When I was at Cafe Boulud in New York, we used to do a continental breakfast for the hotel, and it was just very simple: croissant, hard-boiled egg—like a medium-boiled egg, so you can still go in with a spoon, and salt. We did great fruit that was cut to order, and we’d typically do a protein smoothie. And that was it. 

Photo by Peter Sieve

What’s the most egregious crime you see being committed in the name of breakfast on a continual basis?
The biggest problem with going out to breakfast—and I say this to my team constantly—you have to be fast. Because breakfast is something that everyone can cook at home. And if it’s not quick, they’re upset about it. So I think the number one key is speed. And don’t over-scramble my eggs!

That is the worst. No brown!
No brown! And even like if it coagulates and curds too much, that’s an issue.

Are you the type of chef who’ll test new or young cooks with the omelet challenge?
Oh yeah. Definitely. The second they grab a whisk, it’s all wrong. 

Right! It’s gotta be a fork.
Yep. You can’t aerate it.

So the Julia Child way. 
That’s right. 

You’re a busy guy, with a couple of restaurants to run and a family. Do you ever get stressed out and fantasize about hitchhiking out West, changing your name, getting work at an old school diner, and just knocking food out at a flat top all day?
No, man, I love this. I’m more inspired now than ever before. We have over 150 employees with the company now, and that’s insane. It’s inspiring to know that all those people are relying on us to be busy, financially successful, responsible, and all those things. It’s stressful, of course, but you know, the one thing I miss, short order cook or not, is just that repetition of cooking. It’s why my favorite task in the kitchen is to butcher fish. 

Photo by Peter Sieve

So just getting into that meditative state of doing the same thing over and over.
It’s just the best. It’s quiet, I’m in my own little world. I just love butchering fish.

Got it. Are there any restaurants that stand out for you when it comes to breakfasts? Any touchstones?
Like here in town, I love Hola Arepa for brunch. I just think it’s comfortable, it’s a beautiful space. Nationally, when we lived in New York City, we used to go to ABC Kitchen for brunch. I loved that brunch. In LA, Otium is just a great spot that I’ve really enjoyed. 

Any particular heros in the world of boulangerie that inspire your bakery program here?
Dominique Ansel, in terms of his bakery, is amazing. We worked together in New York City and he went off to create his bakery, and then the cronut craze made him very famous very quickly, but I love watching him. The team at Tartine in San Francisco too. Chad Robertson is amazing. 

It’s been really encouraging to see, in the past decade or so, this huge explosion of thoughtful and high-quality bakeries in the US. Where do you see that going? 
I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface yet. I think the accessibility and availability of great grains that are local and milled fresh to order and that we use in our bakery today, is not gonna be uncommon as we move forward. And I think that celiac and gluten issues... people say to me all the time, “I can have bread in Europe and I feel fine, but when I eat bread in America I don’t feel fine.” It’s because one of them is true grain and one of them is not. Commercial yeast and all that is here to stay, it will always dominate our market because that’s commerce, and that’s what we’re about, but that, to me, creates an opportunity for bakeries like ours and others around the country that are small and unique. I mean, we’re 250 square feet and pushing out tons of bread. No disrespect to Starbucks, but what they’re putting out on their shelves versus what I’m putting out—they’re not comparable.  

This interview has been edited and condensed.