Executive Chef Chad Myers’ stage at Heyday restaurant in Minneapolis improved his culinary knowledge and inspired him to become a better club chef.
I just finished my second season as Executive Chef of Dubuque (Iowa) Golf & Country Club. The more time passes, the more I learn about my strengths and weaknesses as a club chef. Even as the pressure to be “the boss” grows, cooking well is still critical.
Learning and evolving is what I love about this profession. So I believe that putting yourself in a position where you can grow is crucial to your success.
Recently, I had the opportunity to stage at a top restaurant in Minneapolis. (Fun fact: The term stage originates from the French word stagiaire, meaning trainee, apprentice or intern.) The restaurant is called Heyday an my friend Mike works there. He invited me to shadow him for his shift on a Thursday evening in late summer. I jumped at the chance.
Heyday is led by Jim Christiansen, a 2015 Food & Wine Best New Chef and two-time James Beard nominee. It serves New American cuisine with small plates, a classic cocktail program and has a rustic, low-key vibe.
The entire staff was extremely polite and professional. I think that’s a direct reflection of Christiansen, who is equally polite, professional, talented and knowledgeable. It was a joy to watch an entire team come together to create the best dish possible every time. The skill level in his kitchen is inspiring. They take pride in their work and their surroundings. It was the cleanest, most organized kitchen I’ve ever been in. Taking as much pride in the cleanliness of the kitchen as they do in the food speaks to the character of the individuals that make up the restaurant’s staff.
I was able to shadow Mike on the first course/dessert station. We prepped and set up our mise en place. There are four sections on Heyday’s menu, each with four options. Guests can order each individually or pick one from each of the sections for a 4-course tasting menu. The menu style and the restaurant are much different than my club, where maintaining member favorites and a wide variety of options is important. But the opportunities to learn here and adapt some ideas to take home were vast.
One of my favorite things I saw on the menu was a dish with homemade snow. That’s right, snow. It was an oyster dish where the oysters were blanched and marinated in an herb and oyster juice combination. For plate up, five pieces of oyster were put on plate with toasted and crushed hazelnuts. The whole thing is topped with cucumber slices marinated in herb-oil and then mounded with asparagus snow. I love that it looks just like a pile of snow, but digging in reveals a complex mélange of flavor. A white asparagus juice with cream is charged in a nitrous canister and sprayed into liquid nitrogen. From the liquid nitrogen it goes into a food processor and turns into snow. For me, this was mind-blowing. The only experience I’ve with liquid nitrogen is a few demonstrations on how to use it. And since I’m somewhat accident prone I always imagine myself spilling it down my leg. (I’m pretty much like Chunk on the Goonies; Hand me something and wait three seconds for me to drop it. I’m exaggerating, but let’s just say that liquid nitrogen is intimidating to me.)
I like to think I push some culinary boundaries at the club, but at Heyday they take “thinking outside the box” to a whole different level. There were two desserts I thought were hard to consider “dessert,” but when eating them I was amazed. One was a sorrel granita topped with an anise hyssop parfait. It’s a giant portion, but it eats airy. It’s finished with a spray of reduced beet juice and garnished with sorrel leaves.
The next dessert was kind of a cheese course/dessert course in one. There was an aerated two-year aged gouda mousse piped on the plate. Then handmade honeycomb, fresh tarragon and rhubarb were put on top of it with more shaved gouda. All of the flavors married so well together. It finished somewhat like bleu cheese, but in a pleasant way that balanced the other sweet components of the dish.
My experience at Heyday was amazing. There’s a reason Christiansen was named as a Best New Chef and is a James Beard nominee. The excellence I witnessed will no doubt keep him and this restaurant on top of any “best lists” for years to come.
It was also great being able to work with Mike, who used to work with me here at Dubuque Golf & Country Club. I got to see firsthand why moving up to Minneapolis and eventually getting to work at Heyday was the best decision he ever made. I am proud that I got to be a part of that process and help him make that move.
My stage experience has inspired me to do better, to figure out how to make my staff better, and to make my food better. There are limitations as to what boundaries I can push, but why not try. Why not kick the status quo in the teeth and push myself to make the experience of eating at small country club as exciting as eating in a big city restaurant?