Don Saunders of In Season: Chef Chat, part 2

Categories: Interview

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Christine Chovan
Chef Don Saunders of In Season restaurant
Today we continue our talk with Don Saunders, chef of the new In Season restaurant in south Minneapolis. (Here's part 1 of the interview.) Saunders, who first entered the Twin Cities restaurant scene as a server, tells us about a clumsy night waiting tables at Campiello -- his most embarrassing moment in a restaurant -- and asks whether anyone out there knows the name of his favorite Christmas cookie (described below).

What are your favorite cookbooks?

My favorite cookbook is Culinary Artistry. It's less of a cookbook and more of a reference book. They talk a lot about ingredients and flavor combination and stuff like that.

I really like the Michel Bras cookbook. He's one of the top chefs in the world. Honestly, it's more about the photography and how he presents dishes than anything. It's kind of a funny cookbook for the chefs that have it, because the recipes he puts in there and then the picture -- it's like he's leaving out half of it. It's like, "Here's the basics, and good luck getting it to the point I have it at." That's what I like about it. He's sort of on another level. At the same time you can get good flavor combinations - squab with porcini mushrooms, for example. Not try to emulate his exact dish but get a good dish going.

I like cheesy things geared toward the home cook. I really like Jamie Oliver's style. He has a lot of books probably more geared toward home cooks. At the same time you get a lot of inspiration from them.

Who is your favorite celebrity chef?

I like Mario Batali a lot. When he used to do his old-school Italian show on the Food Network, it was to me, like, true Italian. More than, say, Giada [De Laurentiis, host of "Giada at Home" on the Food Network] or other people that are doing Italian. I like how he always had a reference point to the region he was cooking in. He always had historical stories - "This is why they use this type of tomato." He just backed it with a lot of historical reference.

I like Gordon Ramsey, because as much as I think he's just completely sold out with his, like, Kitchen Nightmares and Hell's Kitchen, he has to me probably the most legitimate background before he sold than any other celebrity chef. I mean, he had a three-star restaurant in London, so I definitely like that about him.

What do you think is the best food city in America?

You know, I've eaten at a few of the top food places in Chicago. Alinea is one of the ones everyone talks about. That is one of the most amazing meals I've ever had.
I don't have much experience with New York. The time that my wife and I went there just to culinary adventure, we ate at Daniel. That was one of the best meals of my life. We ate at a place called wd~50 - gastro science and stuff. That was fun.

What restaurants do you miss in London?

The place where I did my internship is a one Michelin star restaurant, really nice and reputable -- Chez Bruce. The chef's name is Bruce Poole.

There's a place called The Square in London. One of the best meals I've ever had. Service-wise it was unbelievable.

My sister actually just moved to England about 15 years ago. She lives more in the country. I would visit her, and I still miss - now in America, they're calling them gastro pubs - there, they're just pubs that have been around for like 200 years. You can get, like, saddle of rabbit and lamb shank at these pubs that have, like, $4 beers on tap. They're just like English pub food over there. There's a place in New York like that called the Spotted Pig.

What was your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen?

It wasn't as a cook. It was as a waiter at Campiello. Isaac [Becker] reminded me of this when I went to eat at 112 [Eatery] the first time. They had an open kitchen, and I basically dropped, or knocked over, this huge vase into all the food, broke the vase. They had to reprep all the potatoes and polenta and everything right in the middle of a busy service. Later I found out after service it was a vase that Larry D'Amico had bought in Italy and brought back. It was a sentimental expensive thing form Italy that I broke into everything. In my defense, it shouldn't have been there.

What is the hardest lesson you've learned as a chef?

That is can become monotonous even if you change the menu a lot. No matter how - especially if you're owning a small restaurant where you're hands on - no matter how interesting you think every day will be because you change the menu a lot, you're still chopping onions every day. You're still peeling carrots every day.

This one day at Fugaise me and my sous chef tried to figure out how many scallops I've seared in 10 years. It was something ridiculous like 15,000. It was kind of depressing when I thought about it. Searing a scallop is much more fun than chopping an onion. But still. You can't get away from it. You have to do it every day.

What is your favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

I have a very specific one but I don't know what it's called. They're like little balls with date in them and then they're wrapped in coconuts. Coconut-wrapped date balls? The other thing I love is the old Hershey kiss in the middle, I love those.


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