Update: HauteDish is now open.
When we talked with Landon Schoenefeld about the influences that have shaped the menu and atmosphere of HauteDish — the restaurant he and his partners plan to open next month — he pointed us to an episode of “No Reservations” in which Anthony Bourdain visits Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal.
In it, Chef Martin Picard serves Bourdain Canard en Conserve — duck in a can. This comes after Bourdain has already consumed some 14 dishes featuring foie gras with everything from poutine to bacon-buckwheat pancakes. The server opens the can and, following a certain amount of gelatinous suction, a huge, indelicate glob of duck breast, foie gras, cabbage, and garlic slides out onto a bed of celery root puree and toast. Bourdain declares it delicious and, clearly overwhelmed by the fatty goodness, asks for something to drink.
“I think Martin Picard’s food is over the top,” says Schoenefeld (pictured above with business partner Jess Soine). “Au Pied de Cochon means foot of the pig, and that’s what you get; it’s nose-to-tail stuff and it’s really rustic but gluttonous. I wouldn’t say our restaurant is going to be that exactly — our food will be more refined and pretty — but I’m going for that feeling.”
There’s no need to try to find the oat-ought sounds in Haute, says Schoenefeld: “You can say ‘hot dish.’ That was one of our dilemmas, you know, is it a good name or a bad name? But we’re just saying ‘hot dish.’”
It’s an apt name considering the restaurant will open serving what Schoenefeld calls new Midwestern cuisine. “I would say it’s elevated hot dish,” he says. “We’ll start with a pork and beans, tater tot hot dish, chicken and dumplings …”
In other words, the food he grew up eating. “My mom was a terrible cook, actually, she wouldn’t deny it, but one of the things that she could pull off was a halfway decent tater tot hot dish,” Schoenefeld says, and then kindly describes it for the out-of-towner. “It’s like a big mish-mash of onions, ground beef, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, canned green beans — you know, the Army Jeep green kind — and Ore-Ida tater tots.”
The HauteDish version will combine braised short ribs, potato croquette, a porcini mushroom béchamel and, of course, fresh green beans. “So as much as I hate the word,” he admits, “I guess it’s sort of a deconstruction, my version.”
Recently much has been made of Schoenefeld’s age. When this is mentioned, he laughingly says, “Yeah, my favorite is ‘young firebrand.’” It’s fitting when taken in combination with the fact that he is actually just 28, the infamous “Colonel Mustard” incident and whatever it is — some extraordinary combination of talent, hubris, and impetuousness — that has kept him flying through some of the Twin Cities’ best kitchens, including Restaurant Alma, 112 Eatery, Brasa, Porter & Frye, Barbette, Bull Dog N.E, Trattoria Tosca, and Café Levain.
Schoenefeld, however, says he’s no spring chicken. “I’m pushing 30, which in cook years is getting there — I mean, how long can you be on the line?” He says. “Have I been doing this as long as Tim McKee or Alex Roberts? No, but I’ve been working really hard and technically, I’ve been in the kitchen for 15 years. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I got lucky — it’s not every day that you can fall in with a group of like-minded people, who believe in you and have a chunk of money to risk. It’s a huge risk, everyone knows the statistics. But at the same time, I got lucky for a reason: I work hard and I can come up with clever things.”
It surely is a common story, but looking at the chef’s somewhat mercurial rise, one is curious to know how young Schoenefeld found his way from tater tots to croquettes. “I don’t know, really,” he says, “I’ve always liked food, I’ve always liked eating.”
Schoenefeld grew up in South Dakota, where, he says, “the food in general just isn’t good.” But his family taught him, by example, the value of a home-cooked meal and hard work. “We grew up so poor that it was like — my mom wasn’t the best cook, but she cooked,” he says. “We didn’t eat out, ever; I don’t think my mom even ordered a pizza ‘til I was in high school.”
“And the other thing is that, if you want to make it in this business, you have to have a strong work ethic,” he adds. “Growing up, the way I was raised and where I’m from, I think I’ve always been willing to work, work, work.”
As a kid, Schoenefeld spent part of each summer working on his grandparents’ farm, doing every kind of farm chore, from putting up barbed wire fence to milking cows. At the age of 14, he started washing dishes at a local restaurant. “The typical restaurant there is one of those places with 10 pages and everything under the sun on their menu,” he says. “You want taco salad, chicken alfredo pasta, New York strip, cheeseburger? You can get it all at the same restaurant.”
Schoenefeld describes his early restaurant days as something akin to working on a pirate ship. “I enjoyed all the things that came along with working in the kitchen,” he says. “You know, people give me a lot of crap for the things I say, but at the end of the day we’re cooks — there’s a reason we’re in the back of the house. I was sort of drawn to that: I’m sure that I smoked my first cigarette and drank my first beer in the kitchen.”
He had always assumed he’d do something else after high school, until someone suggested he apply for The International Culinary Schools at the Art Institutes Minnesota. “It was sort of a cop out,” he says. “Hey, I’ll do this — I didn’t know what $30,000 was when I was 18.”
Yet, he ended up diving into the experience and stayed in Minneapolis afterward to live and work. “I happened to fall into a couple places, where, I feel like, then it kind of ignited the passion for food,” he says. “I worked at Marimar. I saved every special and every menu we ever did there and it’s funny to look back — five of our entrees came with mashed potatoes — but I learned a lot there and formed friendships with people who are still cooking around town today.
That’s when we started to learn as a group, from each other, and that’s when it started, all the geeky cookbook and knife envy.”
Schoenefeld likely would have made an excellent culinary debate team captain — he seems able to recall and quote every cookbook he’s ever read. He’ll tell you that he eschews terms like “deconstructed” and “molecular gastronomy,” then pull out Alinea, On Food and Cooking, Momofuku and The Fat Duck Cookbook, and tell you exactly, if somewhat tangentially, why: “It’s a stupid term. For instance, everyone says sous-vide is molecular gastronomy, no it’s not! I mean is it? Thomas Keller says in his book, Under Pressure, that it’s not a replacement for other cooking methods, it’s just another one. Through technology, we are able to quantify things a little better.”
He’ll also tell you that before Harold McGee and Heston Blumenthal, there was his personal hero, Fernand Point, the father of nouveau cuisine: “More than anything, it’s his philosophy; he just has all these really interesting aphorisms,” says Schoenefeld, “but he put into place, for me, what it means to be a cook in the grand scheme of things. It’s based on tradition. You can draw it back to one of these 14th or 15th century chefs — it didn’t start in 1990, it started a long time ago.”
In these moments, the chef could come off like a name-dropping so and so, but he seems more like a really excited kid lobbing a ball over the fence to see if you’ll throw it back. Perhaps it is that rich enthusiasm that has drawn the stellar cast of chefs Schoenefeld has lined up to open HauteDish, including Erik Anderson and Adam Vickerman of Sea Change, Erik Emery of Bulldog N.E., and Remle Colestock of Café Levain. “A lot of these guys are friends of mine,” he says, “which can come with pros and cons, but they’re all people who respect me and want to help.” [See “The HauteDish All-Stars,” below, for more details.]
Also on the relatively younger side are Schoenefeld’s partners, Jess Soine, Tim Johnson, and David Walters. “I am the youngest and the only girl,” says Soine, who is 26, while Johnson and Walters are both 30. “I take on a little more green sort of stress. I’m sure they’re all worried that I’ll cry, so I’m just trying to hold it together and stand up with these guys and make it happen.” [See “The HauteDish All-Stars,” below, for Soine’s take on her partners’ super powers.]
As of today, the restaurant is set to open mid-March, having recently suffered a few setbacks in the build out, namely bringing a bathroom and very expensive fan up to code. Soine says they’ve toned down the former Cafe Havana’s décor — think less leopard print, more earthy reds and browns — and expanded the kitchen. “There will be a little surprise in the kitchen — if Landon’s going to have a nickname like Colonel Mustard we’ve got to have some fun with it,” she says. “Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same; we’re just taking everything and calming it down. We don’t want to overwhelm your senses; we just want you to be relaxed.”
Schoenefeld seconds that. “I don’t like dressing up, I don’t even own a tie, and I don’t like sitting through a 12-course meal in some stuffy dining room,” he says. “So it’s fine dining food and service, but in a come-as-you-are, casual atmosphere.”
On the eve of finally opening the restaurant, the chef is ready to get in the kitchen. “I just wish some people would realize that I’ve worked pretty hard and I do think I deserve this,” he says, “but none of the real work has begun yet, so I guess it’s time for me to shut up and cook — I’m looking forward to doing just that. Like I say, this is my idea and I hope people like it.”
THE HAUTEDISH ALL-STARS
Erik Anderson (of Sea Change)
The chef sums up Erik Anderson succinctly, saying, “I think he’s the shit.” Anderson will work at HauteDish only a few days a week, primarily on the charcuterie. “I wanted to do a terrine, a pate and a galantine,” says Schoenefeld, “but one of his ideas was to put a confit of duck gizzards, set in orange gelee with a layer of fat, in these little 6-ounce Weck jars — so basically anything he has spouted off to me has been way more than I would have thought of on my own.”
“A lot of times, when you take over as chef, you can stop learning if you don’t push yourself,” Schoenefeld adds. “So it’ll be nice to have him here because it means I’ll still be getting a little bit of an education.”
Remle Colestock (formerly of Cafe Levain)
“What’s funny about Remle,” Schoenefeld says, “is that he probably has the least amount of food knowledge, but he’s one of those great morale guys and he has a true sense of taste. Plus, if I have to spend 70 hours a week with someone, I couldn’t think of anyone better.”
Erik Emery (formerly of Bulldog N.E.)
Schoenefeld says: “He has a gentle touch and his food always looks beautiful. He may not be the fastest, but that’s what I want him for: his eye, his hand.”
Marc Dresel (formerly of Barbette)
In contrast to the painstaking Emery, Dresel is apparently the Timex watch of cooking. “The main reason I decided to take him on here is because he’s been working at Barbette since I left [in the winter of 2007 / 2008] — and that’s like dog years working in that kitchen. When it comes to Friday or Saturday night, he’ll barely blink at 350 covers.”
Adam Vickerman (of Sea Change)
At this point, Adam Vickerman will only prep at the restaurant a few nights a week — reportedly, he’s also working as a line chef at Sea Change. “He’s just super efficient — I know he’s just going to do it right, he’s never going to fuck up,” says Schoenefeld. “And he’ll help me. The menu is going to change along the way and I’m hoping that, because of the people I’ve pulled together, it will be a collaboration, we’ll kind of feed off of each other.
I told all my cooks, ‘Hey, if you have a suggestion, I’m more than willing to hear it.’ I’m not pig-headed to where I can’t listen to other people’s ideas — they respect me, I respect them.”
Soine worked her way through a communications degree at the University of Minnesota in local bars and restaurants. “I had the opportunity to work with Chris Rogers at Lyon’s Pub,” she says. “Working with him made me have hope in owning a place — you can make a locally run restaurant run really well as long as your employees see your face every day.”
Along the way, she met Schoenefeld. They’d see each other at shows and joke about opening a restaurant. About two and a half years ago, right around the time that Soine started thinking about pursuing a job in advertising, Schoenefeld, Johnson, and Walters approached her with a real offer. “They invited me to be on the team,” she says. “Every time someone hears that you have four business partners — it’s a look of horror. We get along well, though, and we each have our own expertise in the restaurant.”
Soine is in charge of the front of the house and, of course, communications.
“Landon is this over-the-top person,” Soine says. “You see his face light up when he sets a plate down and says, ‘Here’s your salad, it’s got bacon powder!’ And he looks like the happiest kid ever. So, sure, maybe at first it was a little scary — the press has these stories — but I know who he is and I knew who he was before we were going to be partners.”
“We complement each other quite nicely,” she adds. “He’s scatter-brained and I’m a little OCD; whether they like it or not, I alphabetize everything here.”
Ask Soine what she likes about the HauteDish menu and she gets a little gushy. “I’m from Watertown, South Dakota, and a lot of the food is just big meat and potatoes, and it’s good, maybe a little sloppy, but it’s good and it’s heavy with butter, gravy, and salt,” she says. “Landon is taking that and making it more appealing. It’s just everything that makes me nostalgic about my childhood and it tastes amazing — and they’re good size portions, you’ll be full.”
Walters is the general manager and bar manager. His folks owned a resort in Walker, MN, so he grew up in the service industry and, like Soine, he also worked as a bartender and manager throughout college. “He’s the brains of the operation, taking care of the business side,” says Soine. “He’s been able to watch his parents go through pretty much anything you can think of in the industry, and now we get the benefit of that knowledge.”
Johnson, Soine says, is “the beer and wine man. He is a lover of beer to such an extent that he has me drinking things I would never because they’re not really my cup of tea, but he has a way of making it good because of the passion he brings to it.”
He has spent the last few years building his wine knowledge, says Soine, and has worked closely with James Hirdler, the general manager at Restaurant Alma, to pull together the HauteDish wine list.
UPDATE: Check out the Duck in a can at Haute Dish.