The much-anticipated new restaurant of Gavin Kaysen, one of Minneapolis’ top chefs, could be a case study in why people should be keeping journals from a young age.
When Mara opens at the new Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis in June, the restaurant will reflect Kaysen’s travel memories from when he was a young chef in Switzerland in his 20s. At the weekends and during the long holiday season, Kaysen took the train to the south of France. He would travel alone and write about it.
“I remember that moment when I sat down on the Riviera in Nice and I’ve never had a panisse [chickpea flour fritters] before, and I just really fell in love with what I saw,” he said.
Away from family and friends, in a place where he didn’t speak the language, Kaysen channeled his isolation into curiosity about the region’s bounty, both food and craftsmanship.
“And here, just those experiences have given me a lot of time to think, write and dream,” he said.
Years later, Kaysen worked in New York as executive chef at Daniel Boulud’s flagship restaurant, Daniel. In 2011, Boulud opened a seaside Mediterranean restaurant, Boulud Sud, and Kaysen was commissioned to test some of the recipes. The experience ‘brought back’ memories of his time in Europe, and ‘I kind of made it in my mind that one day I’d like to open a Mediterranean restaurant,’ he recalls. When the Four Seasons came his way, that was his pitch.
Kaysen drew on those experiences and his journal throughout the three-year process to create Mara, an all-day dining restaurant and bar that will highlight the food from 22 countries that touch the Mediterranean.
As the restaurateur behind Spoon and Stable, Demi, and two Bellecour Bakery locations, Kaysen is also responsible for the downtown Minneapolis hotel’s more casual Socca Café, named after another delicacy made from chickpea flour. The café, also opening in June, will offer take-out options.
Both new dining concepts were announced on Wednesday. Reservations will be released in May, information to follow at mararestaurantandbar.com.
“There are so many opportunities for us to play with different spices and different types of dishes,” Kaysen said. Seafood will of course feature prominently, including a whole branzino to share. As well as meats such as a T-bone steak carved at the table and cereals. Overall, Kaysen takes a more stripped-down approach than its other restaurants, he said.
“When I think about this part of the world, I think about maybe editing the food a little bit more than you’ve seen me do before. When you come to Spoon, there’s usually sauces and sides, veggies and starches, and then the protein. You won’t see a lot of that extra stuff,” he said. “If it’s going to be fried chicken, grilled with a pomegranate glaze and certain spices, it could be just that, with some nice sumac-pickled onions and charred lemon, because that’s on itself is the most delicious thing about this meal. It’s perfect just the way it is. We don’t have to do anything else with it.”
Prices aren’t set yet, but Kaysen said the dinner menu will be what diners might expect at Spoon and Stable (entrees in the low $30 range) — despite the Four Seasons’ pricey reputation.
“I know it’s difficult to conceptualize a space in a Four Seasons hotel and not automatically think it’s high-end or really fancy and/or very expensive. It’s part of the discussion that we’ve had for three years,” he said. “Our intention and goal is to make sure we create a space that is fun and has good energy. I don’t want people to feel like they can only come here for Mother’s Day brunch. There’s a lot more to it than that.”
The “More” includes breakfast and lunch in a light-filled space that “feels more casual than when you walk in for dinner and order a steak,” Kaysen said. There will also be a ‘Chocolate Room’, with windows facing the street giving passers-by a glimpse of chocolatiers making treats that will be available to hotel guests and eventually sold in the café.
The circle closes
Kaysen is very familiar with the Four Seasons brand; He ran Cafe Boulud at the Four Seasons in Toronto.
Unlike some hotel restaurants that bring in local culinary talent as one-time consultants, Kaysen says he’s in it for the long haul. His company, Soigné Hospitality, owns and manages Mara, although the staff are employed by Four Seasons.
“I’m not going to open this restaurant and go back to Spoon and Stable and never go back,” he said. “I’ll be there every week.”
His team has been developing the recipes in the Spoon and Stable kitchen since late last year, and some familiar faces in his company are moving to the Four Seasons, including former demi-sous chef Thony Yang, who is Mara’s chef. Former Four Seasons Martín Morelli is the executive chef. Adam Witherspoon, formerly of Martina and founding partner of cocktail consultancy and beverage maker 3Leche, will oversee the bar program.
Designed by AvroKO, the 124-seat windowed restaurant will incorporate Mediterranean elements into the space, such as: B. A red and gold palette, warm woods, foliage and chandeliers inspired by olive branches. The bar is located under a gold-painted vaulted ceiling.
With Mara’s location at a prominent downtown intersection, 245 Hennepin Av. At the corner of Washington Avenue S., Kaysen awaits not only business travelers.
“I think there’s a huge audience of locals who will enjoy the space and enjoy the feeling,” he said.
Opening just blocks from three of his other businesses is Kaysen’s way of addressing the vibrancy of downtown Minneapolis, he said.
“I believe in this neighborhood and I believe in what it has done for me over the past eight years,” he said. “I’ve seen this neighborhood grow and it’s really important to give back to a community something that was given to me.”