Don Saunders of In Season: Chef Chat, part 1
Christine Chovan Chef Don Saunders of In Season restaurant
Two years after closing Fugaise, chef Don Saunders is running his own restaurant again. Saunders' week-old restaurant, In Season, is located across the street from Cafe Maude in south Minneapolis. The philosophy behind the food is in the name -- it's not strictly a local foods restaurant (though 80 percent of the food is locally sourced, Saunders estimates) -- but seasonal. Today, in the first part of our chef chat, Saunders talks about his inspiration to become a chef, the winter ingredients he is excited about cooking, and what he will contribute to his family's Thanksgiving table tomorrow.
When did you start cooking?
I would say in my teenage years I certainly had an interest in cooking. It always intrigued me to sort of throw things together that were in my parents' refrigerator. But at the same time I never consciously thought of it as a possible career, just something fun to do.
How did you decide to become a professional chef?
When I was a couple years out of high school I didn't like where college was going and jumped into the restaurant business through a server position. I just really like d restaurants right away - the atmosphere and the energy and everything.
I waited tables for maybe four or five years. About a year or two into that I decided I wanted to go into restaurant management and I looked into UW-Stout. I finished up college there in about two or three years. At the end of that I decided I wanted to at least go to culinary school if not pursue the career of being a chef.
Where did you study?
I did a year program at Le Cordon Bleu in London. I did an internship in London and just loved the business. I was really happy with what I chose to do. I thought I kind of had a knack for it.
What kind of restaurant is In Season?
The whole concept is seasonal cooking. The restaurant's name obviously implies that. Basically, what I do, the way I've always cooked is to brainstorm a list of ingredients that I want to use that are at their peak at that particular time of year and then create dishes based on that. Every dish has two or three seasonally appropriate ingredients, from vegetables to meats to seafood.
I would say that we're not strictly local, but whenever possible we're sourcing local products.
What is on the menu now?
We opened with a late fall menu - lots of root vegetables, Honeycrisp apples, duck. A lot of the shellfish get better in the cold months, so things like oysters are on this menu. Wild striped bass from the East Coast has a short season, so that's on the menu right now.
We're already getting ready to change to the winter menu in a couple weeks.
What winter ingredients are you looking forward to using?
Sunchokes [Jerusalem artichokes] are one of my favorite winter ingredients. Those are very cool. We'll be doing an Amish roasted chicken dish with sunchoke gratin and braised endives.
What dish do you cook for Thanksgiving?
It varies every year, but this year we're doing the whole potluck thing with my family and my wife's family. I'm doing roasted winter squash and mashed potatoes. I can do those in my sleep.
What has been your proudest moment as a chef?
In all honesty, it might be the soft opening of this restaurant. I think it's different than the Fugaise opening in that I have a lot more experience now. Except for having a lot of help on the interior design, I basically did this place by myself in the last two months. The day-to-day getting everything up and running I did by myself. Having the experience of Fugaise, I just feel a lot more confident in this project than I did at Fugaise.