Jamie Malone - Sea Change
An emphatic shake of the head. That’s Jamie Malone’s response to the question of whether she ever expected the recognition and publicity that’s come her way since becoming chef de cuisine at Sea Change in Minneapolis.
“It didn’t even cross my mind,” says Malone of the spotlight directed at her after being named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2013. Then there’s been the bevy of local accolades, not to mention her recent acquisition of a Trailblazing Chef Award from Cooking Light magazine for her work with Sea Change’s sustainable seafood program. But it’s clear from the savory razor clams casino and delicate king salmon that Malone is more than deserving of the applause.
Influenced early on by her dad, who was “always into food,” Malone would ride her bike to the St. Paul farmers market every Saturday, listening to NPR’s The Splendid Table on her headphones and envisioning her next meal. For Malone, “learning about food is a way of learning about the world,” and she did both after high school, traveling to China, Vietnam and Europe and delving into each culture’s cuisine.
Malone’s love of ingredient exploration eventually led her to Le Cordon Bleu in Mendota Heights, where she refined her skills before interning with Tim McKee at Minneapolis’ venerable La Belle Vie. She then helped open Porter & Frye in the Ivy Tower before teaming up with McKee again on Barrio and Cocina del Barrio. She was a natural fit when McKee opened Sea Change at the Guthrie Theater in 2009 and started as a line cook and eventual sous chef under Erik Anderson.
“And then Erik went to Nashville and he was like ‘Oh, hey, I’m not coming back,’” says Malone of Anderson leaving to open The Catbird Seat. “And I was like, ‘hey, I’m here.’” But it wasn’t that simple and Malone didn’t get the nod right away. Instead, McKee brought in chefs from Manhattan, Chicago and the West Coast for interviews and tastings; in the meantime, Malone started running the kitchen. “I really just took control and made it mine,” she says. A few months later, it officially was.
Now the 31-year-old who as a kid wanted to be a marine biologist, guides a renowned seafood restaurant deeply focused on sustainability. For Malone, sourcing her seafood from sustainable fisheries and environmentally responsible farms simply makes sense and promoting it isn’t a PR move.
“We’re lucky to have a platform to educate people,” she says, and diners are increasingly more interested in where their food comes from. “The diners are so supportive of what we’re doing right now, how we’re evolving.”
That evolution is evident in Malone’s menus, in the silky bacon chawan mushi (“It’s a really soft and elegant custard, but it tastes like an Egg McMuffin.”) and even the beef short ribs, braised with licorice root for an additional flavor layer. She strives to keep her style modern but classic at the same time, all while visualizing the person who’s eating her meals. In the kitchen, it’s hard to imagine the soft-spoken Malone ever raising her voice. Instead, her approach is one of firmness and “constant gentle pressure,” she says, pulling a page from Danny’s Meyer’s book, “Setting the Table.”
“It’s about not letting things slip by and build up,” Malone says, and consistency is a virtue in a restaurant that serves 140 people an hour on show nights.
Does such high-volume cooking ever push Malone too far? Sure, she says, and with all the travel opportunities and interviews mixed in she reached a “near burnout” a few months ago but has since reorganized and begun delegating more to her staff. But she doesn’t have an exit strategy and sees herself forever in the kitchen—though perhaps in a smaller, more intimate setting. In the meantime, she loves coming to work each day at Sea Change and being part of the Twin Cities’ restaurant scene.
“It’s a super close community of cooks and chefs and I think we’re all excited when someone has success, opens a new place, is recognized,” Malone says. “There’s a shared sense of accomplishment, there’s really that sense of pride.”
Bacon Chawan Mushi
4x pieces konbu (2” x 6”)
2 pounds bacon
8 cups water (distilled)
Combine water and konbu; bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes; remove konbu. Place bacon in water; bring to a boil. Simmer 30 minutes. Strain through coffee filter; cool. Strain again through chinois.
Season for Chawan Mushi
1 quart of dashi
1 tsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp Shin Mirin
3 Tbsp Shoyu
Chawan mushi ratio: (weigh by grams) 1:3, Egg:Stock