Dish of the Year

The Paris-Brest from Grand Cafe
 
It’s not every day that one of your creations earns distinction as “dish of the year” by Food & Wine magazine in its May 2018 issue. For chef Jamie Malone of Grand Cafe in Minneapolis, the honor is quite gratifying, and yet hopefully only the launching pad for continued success as an independent restaurant owner.

This 35-year-old chef is a self-proclaimed lover of traditional French food who has crafted one of the most inventive dishes of recent memory — a savory version of the classic Paris-Brest pastry. Food & Wine describes it this way: “In her brilliant interpretation of a Paris-Brest, Grand Cafe chef Jamie Malone takes the dessert on a savory trip. She fries rounds of choux pastry to churro-like crispness, sandwiches them around a delicate chicken liver mousse, drizzles the whole thing with a gold-flecked burnt honey glaze, then showers it under a flourish of flaky sea salt. The result is decadent, beautiful, and outrageously delicious.”

Bake caught up with Malone at her bistro, which opened in 2017, to sample the savory Paris-Brest (which exceeded every expectation) and to ask this talented chef about her inspirations, her past, and what the future holds.

“The day after I graduated high school, I bought a plane ticket to Hong Kong,” she recalls. “I was a bit of a book nerd in high school. I knew I wanted to be in the food world, maybe writing cookbooks. Then I worked in restaurants, saved money. I’ve done every job in a restaurant there is to do.”

Malone has always enjoyed a life that revolved around food. She grew up cooking and baking breads with her dad in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before receiving her culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu, Malone traveled and studied extensively in Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam and Europe, immersing herself in each region’s cuisine.

She started working in restaurants at age 16 but began her cooking career in hospitality in 2006 working for chef Tim McKee at the highly lauded restaurant La Belle Vie in Minneapolis.

Jamie Malone (right), along with Grand Cafe general manager Nikki Klocker
 
She moved on to be a part of the opening team of several Minneapolis restaurants early in her career, including Chambers Kitchen, Porter and Frye, and Sea Change. “I’m a lover of rules. I’ve always loved old-fashioned French food — the way everything is so official, so honored, and so much ceremony. It’s the backbone of everything I’ve done.”

Still, Malone has never been one to sit still. She’s visited more than a dozen countries. Hong Kong remains a favorite destination. “It’s so unique. The old and new contradictions.”

In 2011 Malone took the position of chef at Sea Change. There, she gained national attention and earned a place as a semifinalist for the James Beard Award Foundation’s “Rising Star Chef” for 2013 and “Best Chef Midwest” for 2014. In 2013, Malone was named one of Food & Wine’s “Best New Chefs.”    

“I love the aesthetics of French pastries,” Malone says of her inspiration behind creating a savory version of Paris-Brest. “To turn these into savory and something so structured, it’s so fun!”

She adds that they offer a simple dessert menu; Bourbon Baba with Tonka Bean and Chantilly is one example, while vanilla ice cream topped with Armagnac-soaked prunes and lemon ice is another. They once put donuts filled with chicken liver mousse on the brunch menu, but Malone cautions that they never want to go too far.

“Just because you can be creative doesn’t always make sense for the diners here,” she says. “We opened 11 months ago very cautiously. We wanted to make sure the neighborhood felt that this was still their restaurant. We’re still here for a roast chicken dinner and a glass of wine.”

In cheeky deference to its roots, the south Minneapolis bistro houses hand-painted antique French wallpaper, a tropical mural through the eyes of early explorers, and a smattering of mismatched French and American ceramics.

The showpiece bakery window, filled with lush foliage, peeks at a decades-old Baker Boy bread oven and a 1939 Hobart stand mixer, recalling its original heyday as a bakery in the 1950s. Mining its rich history for buried treasure, a 1923 Parisian zinc bar gleams amid weathered white oak floors and curvy art deco-shaped booths.

“We’ve got a lot of room to grow here,” Malone says with a humble smile. “Business is growing. We just want to make it the best restaurant we can.”