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Café Minnesota Chef Aims to Push Diners’ Palates

Executive Chef Christian Pieper talks about his focus on local sourcing at Café Minnesota at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

Looking to shed its cafeteria perception and elevate its cuisine, Café Minnesota at St. Paul’s Minnesota History Center welcomed a new executive chef with a talent for creating approachable food on a foundation of classic French technique.

After 14 years on the East Coast at restaurants such as Mills Tavern in Providence, Rhode Island, and as catering chef at Boston’s Museum of Science, Excelsior native Christian Pieper made his Minnesota chef debut in December and shared tastes of several new menu items during a media event February 3. Pieper, a New England Culinary Institute grad, noted his focus on using local and sustainable products whenever possible, something he said is in line with the philosophy at Bon Appétit Management Company, which handles foodservice for the museum.

“That’s my passion, when it comes right down to it,” said Pieper, noting that the day’s tasting menu featured goat cheese from Donnay Farm near Kimball, white fish from Red Lake and short ribs from Cannon Falls-based Thousand Hills Cattle Co.

Though Bon Appétit’s main focus is corporate foodservice, it doesn’t have corporate recipes, explained district manager David Ramlow. Chefs have complete control over their local menus, which for Pieper includes the museum’s in-house catering, and must simply keep to Bon Appétit’s high standards (cage-free eggs, humanely raised meat, seafood that meets Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guidelines, etc.).

Pieper said he looks forward to pushing diners’ palates and incorporating menu items that play off of various displays at the museum, such as the current “Modern Spirit” exhibit by Ojibwe artist George Morrison. New weekly specials will salute indigenous recipes and dishes through the exhibit’s April run.

By elevating the food at Café Minnesota, Bon Appétit Regional Vice President Mark LaChance said visitors would get a “total experience” when visiting the museum. “The café also serves to build our reputation for our event business,” added LaChance. The museum hosts 50-60 weddings each year, along with numerous corporate events.

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