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 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.
Let's face it, there aren't too many chefs in town who have been able to establish such a nefarious reputation as Haute Dish chef and owner Landon Schoenefeld, but when you've been working in the industry as long and in as many places as Schoenefeld, you're bound to have a few stories that will follow you around -- likely until the end of time. Schoenefeld has come a long way from his Colonel Mustard days and since opening Haute Dish in 2010, he has dazzled diners with his thoughtful, well-executed and visually-stunning interpretations on seasonally-driven, technique-elevated, old and new school comfort foods.
As Haute Dish is well into its third year of service, Schoenefeld continues to grow and refine his menu all while keeping diners entertained with his playful plates. As one of the forerunners of the Twin Cities young, chef-driven restaurant movement, Haute Dish has quickly become a Minneapolis staple as it embodies itself as a representative of our cultured past and expansive, diverse future.
Schoenefeld is a South Dakota native who grew up in a small town with a single, working mother that didn't necessarily have the time to prepare quality dinners for her family. "I always tell this story, but my mom hates it. I started cooking really, because frankly, my mom was not so great of a cook. She's a better cook now, but you know, she was a single mother with two kids and right after she'd get off work at 5 o'clock we were hungry and like 'What are we having' and ironically, it was always hot dish. She actually came up with the name too. She called me one morning and said, 'I have the perfect name,' and it was perfect," explains Schoenefeld.
He continued cooking at home, and by the time he hit his teen years he was working in local restaurants where he started to learn the industry basics. Not having the grades to move on to a high end film school like he had originally planned on doing, his mom made the suggestion that he try out culinary school and after high school, that's what he did. Schoenefeld left South Dakota and made his was to the Art Institute of Minnesota to enroll in their culinary program.
Schoenefeld took well to culinary school which he attributes a lot to his previous industry experience, but he explains that maybe it isn't for everyone. "It's like TK [Thomas Keller] say's in one of those Lucky Peaches, why would you be against an educated workforce," he explains, but he continues, "Now that same program, whatever it was I payed for it... I started in 2000, but now I think that same program is $55,000, and you're still going to make the same amount of money by the hour."
His first cooking job in the city was with Rudolph's BBQ, but while in school he transitioned to the now-shuttered, south Minneapolis restaurant Miramar where he spent several years. He recalls the food there to be very reminiscent of that era in Minneapolis cuisine. "It was like goat cheese, butternut squash quesadillas with olive-cranberry tapanade. There were somewhat interesting appetizers that were easy to execute with two or three line cooks and then everything was sauce-protein driven as far as entrees go. A lot of pork tenderloin," recalls Schoenefeld.
After his time at Miramar he managed to snag a position working as a chef for a fraternity on the U of M campus. "It was pretty interesting. They were a bunch of bro-bra like a... well, it was kind of like a sociological experiment in the Greek world for me," explains Schoenefeld.
After spending time tending to the frat, Schoenefeld made his way to Alaska in order to give something else a try. "It was mainly that I wanted to get out of here and check out something else. It was fun. It was beautiful. I worked at Denali National Park for four months and then when I came back, that's when things really started to snowball into... well, I did my research at that point. Going back to culinary school, they didn't teach you anything about the local food scene," tells Schoenefeld "I mean there was La Belle Vie in Stillwater, Goodfellows was open then and Aquavit was still open downtown, but they didn't teach you anything about who was this person and where, which I think was just ridiculous. It should've been a huge part of the curriculum. I mean, these restaurants are doing this and that, and you should try going there, but they didn't do any of that."
"When I got back, I had done my research and I had pinpointed what restaurants I wanted to work at. I basically sent resumes out to everyone with cover letters tailoring them to each individual person. I sent one to La Belle Vie in Stillwater before they moved back over. I had a couple of interviews. Russel Klein interviewed me over at W.A. Frost and he actually gave me the job, but I got another offer that same week so I never actually reported to duty for him. I ended up working for Isaac Becker over at Lurcat."
"I really liked working for Isaac at Lurcat. I really liked the clean kind of food that they were doing at the time," says Schoenefeld, but while there he had taken a stage position over at the old Restaurant Levain, "I worked once a week there basically for free for about a year."
Schoenefeld tells us at length about what it was like working in a restaurant that he describes as being the pinnacle of top-shelf, extravagant food in the Twin Cities, and how much he took to Chef Steven Brown while there. However, when Becker opted to leave Lurcat to open his own restaurant, Schoenefeld was given the opportunity to follow Becker in order to help launch 112 Eatery.
After a year at 112 Eatery, Becker suggested that Schoenefeld go and work for a stint under Chef Alex Roberts at Restaurant Alma. "Alex was really good for me in my career at that point, especially having worked for Steven and Issac where it was always more butter, more cream, and more everything whereas Alex was more about restraint. Like how can you achieve what you're trying to achieve with the least amount of that really rich stuff as possible. Even still, at the end of the year I worked for Alex, he still thought I had a heavy hand. The stuff I learned at Alma was the realest; it was the stuff that really stuck with me," says Schoenefeld.
Before leaving Alma, Schoenefeld started working a few days a week at Barbette underneath former Levain chef Peter Botcher while continuing his stage at Levain. It was at this point he was contacted about the chef's position at the Bulldog N.E. Enticed by a decent salary and health benefits, Schoenefeld took the position where he continued working strenuous hours. Eventually this took its toll on him which resulted in the "infamous mustard incident," in where allegedly Schoenefeld emptied an entire bottle of mustard on a server after which he was promptly relieved of his position.
After that he worked for a variety of other restaurants including Porter & Frye, Barbette again, Brassa, Trattoria Tosca, Nick & Eddie, Sea Change, and the Wienery. "I was working for Erik [Anderson] over at Sea Change and somewhere along the line I picked up a part-time gig at the Wienery. I was working Saturdays and Sundays at the Wienery, and my full time job was doing prep at Sea Change," he laughs.
It was during this time that he began to contemplate going solo, but the then-failing economy made it exceedingly difficult to open a new space. Eventually, after a lot of persistence and hard work, in the spring of 2010, Haute Dish was born. Since then they've been loved by critics and diners alike and have been an instrumental player in the developing Twin Cities food culture.
The dish that Schoenefeld has chosen to share with us today has been a Haute Dish staple since the restaurant opened it's doors and has largely remained the same. His General Tso's Sweetbreads with Foie Fried Rice was actually conceived before the restaurant opened and made it's first early appearance at Restaurant Levain as a dish then titled General Landon Tso's Sweetbreads, which was a different take on the dish he now serves.
"I would actually probably credit Alex [Roberts] for this dish more than anyone else. He had a sweetbread dish that I don't exactly remember what was in it, but it was you know, how you do them; poached, pickled, pressed, pan-fried in a little flour and oil, butter and basted... and then it was kind of in a hash almost with tomato braised fennel, black trumpet mushrooms and maybe cabbage was in there. I don't remember the dish exactly, but I remember him coming up to me on the line and explaining it to me one night, you know, critiquing however I was cooking. 'It should almost be like Chinese food,' that's what he said and that's when the light bulb went on because at the time I was eating shitty, shitty, shitty Chinese food," reminisces Schoenefeld.
The dish starts with gently fried, tempura sweetbreads that are tossed in a tangy, slightly spicy sauce that are set atop a bed of fairly traditional ham fried rice, complete with an authentic dash of pure MSG, and comes garnished with a torchon of foie gras and a piece of seared broccoli. The dish of course comes served with a house made fortune cookie stuffed with creative fortunes written by the staff.
The tender, creamy sweetbreads hold up incredibly well to the sauce and the richness from the foie ties together the rice and the sweetbreads beautifully, and instantly recalls the memory of simple takeout Chinese while holding up a level of elegance.
Schoenefeld and his crew at Haute Dish continue to put out stunning new dishes, but their classics are definitely worth remembering. If you've never had the pleasure of dining at Haute Dish, or if you've never jumped into the realm of sweetbreads, the General Tso's Sweetbreads are an excellent representation of both and are something that anyone in the pursuit of amazing eats should not miss.