Salty Tart's Michelle Gayer: Chef Chat, part 1
Michelle Gayer, owner and head chef at the two-year-old Minneapolis bakery Salty Tart, has been busy the last six months. Last spring she was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. After attending the awards ceremony in May in New York, Gayer came back to a busy summer in Minnesota. In addition to running the bakery, she cooked meringue over an open flame at a farm dinner with Tour de Farm in Plato, Minnesota, and prepared untold pounds of peaches for peaches and cream parfaits at the Salty Tart's state fair booth just a few weeks ago.
Lisa Gulya Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart bakery
We talked with Gayer just as she was catching her breath after the State Fair last week for the first installment of this week's chef chat.
What was your second year having a stand at the fair like?
It was a good dry run of what having two restaurants would be like.
We hired a couple of extra people to come in and prep and cut peaches. We just used everyone from here.
So you'll do it again?
Every year I say no way. And then the next year comes around and we get all excited. It's fun to be outside for 12 days.
As a chef-owner, do you get any vacation?
I'm taking it next week.
Tell me about the James Beard Awards party.
There's a pre-chef party the night before [the awards] for all the nominees and anyone in the industry who's in town. That's pretty fun and outrageous--food and drinking, all those sorts of things. The next night, the awards night, whatever restaurant wins, they host a big party. You just show up and they just start pouring.
Eleven Madison Park--they won best chef and something else. You could hear the DJ and the music booming when you got out of the cab. It was standing room only. It was everyone in the industry dancing and partying like I've never seen before. You couldn't even make it to the bar. They ran out of cups. At one point they ran out of alcohol. All I could think of was how are they going to open for lunch tomorrow?
How did you get into cooking?
I think I just got lucky. I just knew that I liked to cook and decided to go to culinary school. I knew I needed to do something, and it wasn't going to be going to a four-year state school and getting a liberal arts degree. I went to Kendall College in Chicago.
Who taught you to cook?
It would have to be experience, just being in the kitchen.
Why did you move from Chicago to Minneapolis?
I got a call from a headhunter to work at the Franklin Street Bakery. It only made sense to open a bakery with someone else's money before trying to do my own.
I had been with Charlie [Trotter] for 10 years, and it was time. I told him, I don't know if there's one more crunchy/creamy small element I can make.
How is running your own bakery different than the jobs you've had working as a pastry chef in a restaurant?
I think it's just more responsibility. As a pastry chef, in Chicago I ran a team of five. I have a team of seven here. There's a lot more different kinds of responsibilities.
How did you decide to open your own bakery?
I knew I didn't want to work for anyone else anymore. I didn't want to ask for another day off. I wanted to create something for my daughters.
Our chat with Michelle Gayer continues tomorrow.