In the search for the Twin Cities' best culinary creations, we often come across dishes that stop us mid-bite and force us to reflect on the level of thought and artistry chefs put into their work. The efforts of the chefs are often laborious, and the end results are regularly consumed before the full concept can be appreciated. We've been tracking down some of these dishes to get the chef's side of the story; their thoughts, motivations, and processes. It's our hope that we can give you a deeper insight into the talents of Twin Cities chefs and to have a better understanding of what you're getting when you sit down to dinner.
Chefs are often known for their drive and work ethic. To be committed to a job that requires you to donate your life to it, especially on weekends, takes a special kind of person and Sea Change's Chef de Cuisine Jamie Malone certainly fits the bill. To say that Chef Malone is a driven person is to short sell her accomplishments. At an age much younger than most other chefs given the task of running a fine dining restaurant, she's already done more than many will do in their entire careers.
Chef Malone has a soft yet commanding presence in the kitchen and her attention to detail can be seen on every plate delivered to the dining room. Her current focus at Sea Change is on sustainable seafood, a difficult task for any chef and even more so for a chef in the Midwest. Malone goes above and beyond in this category as she has also been known to advocate the use of sustainable fish not just inside, but also outside the restaurant world.
Malone grew up surrounded by a family that had a distinct interest in food. She tells us that her mother would take care of the typical weeknight meals, but her father often liked to get adventurous in the kitchen. She would help her father conduct culinary experiments, often with mixed results. "My mom did the regular dinners, but my dad was more into experimenting on the weekends, weekend brunches and things like that," says Malone. "It was kind of like the joke, I mean, he never knew this, but my mom, my sister and I were always like 'god I hope this is going to work' because there were some really strange things than came out of my families kitchen, but there were some really good things too."
By the time Malone was 18, she was helping her sister set up and run a small local chain of retail stores. An ambitious task for anyone, but at her young age, Malone and her sister were able to make a go of it. She helped to establish the popular Twin Cities Bead Monkey stores. Then at the age of 22, when her sister was at a point where she could take over the stores on her own, Malone decided that she wanted to head to culinary school.
In 2005, Malone enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in Mendota Heights. When asked about her view of culinary school, Malone explained, "I'm kind of a nerd so I really liked it. You know, I like homework. I liked it, but I didn't feel very challenged. I think I was pretty discontented with... I started in September so I started with all the kids that were right out of high school. Even thought I was only 22 I was kind of a world away from high school and I was married and not on the same level as them. So I was frustrated, but in hindsight, I did learn a lot."
For her externship at Le Cordon Bleu, Chef Malone found herself at Minneapolis fine dining troubadour La Belle Vie. "It's funny, so I called and at the time YC [Chef Mike DeCamp] and Bill Fairbanks were both sous chefs. I forget who I talked to first, probably Bill, and they answered the phone like 'kitchen'. So then you come in for a stage and you walk in with your name tag on, which is so not cool, and nobody really takes you in, you just have to kind of figure out what to do and make yourself useful. So then I did and at the end of the shift nobody says 'alright you're good to go' or anything and it's like, okay, did I get the internship? I remember asking YC if I could come back and he said 'I don't know, call me if you feel like it' or something like that. You know, he made you work for it which is good. They don't have room for people that don't really want to be there."
After a three month stint at La Belle vie, Chef Malone went on to assist Chef Steven Brown as he opened up Porter & Frye where she spent about a year. In a small amount of time Chef Jamie Malone helped to open Chambers, Porter & Frye, both Barrio locations and Sea Change. As Sea Change was opening, she received a call from then Chef Eric Anderson, now one of the head chefs at the nationally recognized The Catbird Seat in Nashville, to come over and help set up shop there. She worked under Anderson for two years, eventually becoming his sous, before he went to spend some time at the world renowned Noma in Denmark. After Anderson's departure, Sea Change went head-chefless for a period of time. "We spent four or five months looking for somebody. I definitely wasn't the obvious choice. I mean, I'd never done it before. It took a while for me to convince Tim [McKee] to give me the job," she explains with a giggle.
Malone's style is not unlike that of her predecessor. Delicate flavors beautifully balanced and enhanced by a variety of sub-flavors and textures. The dish Malone chose to prepare for us is gorgeous plate adorned with succulent abalone, thinly shaved, lightly blanched asparagus and king oyster mushrooms. The dish itself is actually the love child of two very different ideas. Malone was in the process of developing a vegetable dish for Sea Change's famous raw bar, but it evolved into something much more. She took the freshness of the vegetable dish and matched it with a combination of rich flavors and creamy textures that she likens to that of a carbonara. The resulting plate is sensuous and rich, yet not overly heavy while maintaining the level of freshness one might get from a light springtime salad.
She starts the dish by utilizing a heavy dollop of butter in a hot frying pan. The butter is seasoned with a bit of white pepper and a pinch of chili flakes and the mushrooms get slowly placed into the hot buttery bath. Once the mushrooms become soft, they're removed and set aside on a towel to let loose some of the excess butter. The shaved abalone is then placed in the same butter for an extremely brief period - just long enough for the edges to become slightly crisp from the butter. The abalone then gets removed and set aside while Malone artistically plates the asparagus, which has been lightly kissed by a light squeeze of fresh lemon, along with various other goodies including a couple of spots of meticulously diced calabrian peppers and a few beads of bone marrow jelly. She then carefully places the mushrooms and the abalone on the plate with a small mound of bone marrow powder and a touch of finishing salt. The resulting dish is a succulent combination of both subtle and vibrant flavors. Buttery and rich with a flash of heat and crisp freshness, complimented by earthy mushrooms and the slightly chewy bite from the abalone; the resulting plate is truly something special.
Malone is both driven and artistically gifted. Her understanding of flavor rivals some of the most experienced chefs and helps to rank her as one of the Twin Cities elite. Whether you're there for a show or making a special stop for a night out for some elegantly prepared seafood, Chef Jamie Malone is sure to deliver something that will last in your memory for a long time to come.