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Jamie Malone on Seafood in Minnesota and the Importance of Critics

Continuing Eater Lounge coverage from the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Right now: chef Jamie Malone of Sea Change in Minneapolis.

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[Photo: Eater.com]

So, congratulations on being one of the Best New Chefs. Tell me about when you found out. It was kind of funny, I don't get any reception in the kitchen at work, so I think Dana Cowin called like 17 times and I kept missing the call. The first few times I was like oh Food & Wine is calling, that's kind of weird. Then I started to feel like maybe it was kind of important. So finally she called and I answered, not knowing it was Dana, and when I heard her voice it was pretty shocking. I had to sit down.

How have things been for you since then? Has the restaurant gotten busier? We've been a little more busy, yeah. We're usually really busy this time of year so it's kind of hard to gauge. But I think we will be now, with the magazine out and all the press from Aspen. The most fun part is all the other chefs that want to do collaborations. Just having your name out there, people reach out.

What kind of collaborations are you doing these days? We're doing something with Andrew Gerson from Brooklyn Brewery when we get back to Minnesota. Then in August, something in northern Minnesota, in Brainerd — it's the Wine and Food Festival and Johnny Iuzzini, Erik Anderson, myself, and some other chefs from Minneapolis will be there. That's a four-day long event with foraging and food competitions. And drinking, I'm sure.

What's changed for you personally since that was announced? Running a restaurant I'm always busy, but I'm even more busy now, which is good. So I don't think I've even had time to notice my personal life.

What's new at the restaurant? We just keep doing what we're doing. The collaborations are kind of a new thing. We're out here in Aspen, and I brought my sous chef Ryan Cook so all our cooks are stepping up and running the kitchen. We've never been away before, so it's kind of cool for them to have the chance to step up and run things.

Are you nervous? No, I'm not. I should be just because of my personality, but I'm not. I trust them. We're joking that mom and dad are gone.

How do you guys fit in with what's going on in the Midwest food scene? We haven't even had spring yet, so we don't have any Minnesota produce, it's insane. But I think in Minnesota, it's so cool — Minnesota cooks, we all really support each other and I think we're all very honest and sincere. We all just want to work with our hands, we don't want to be too out there or flashy. A lot of the restaurants my friends are running, we're sort of getting back to fundamentals ... Baking our own bread and just cooking.

Any new projects on the horizon? We're trying to build a pavilion on our gorgeous back patio that overlooks the Mississippi River. I think it's the best patio in town, but no one knows about it. We're trying to build a stand-up oyster bar and a cocktail bar, to make it kind of a hangout area back there.

Are there special challenges that come along with having a seafood restaurant in the Midwest? Of course there are, one being I have to get the fish to me. Luckily we do a ton of volume, so I can get fish in every day. I use Coastal Seafoods in Minnesota and they're awesome, they can get me anything. We use Island Creek Oysters too, they can overnight anything to us so it's great.

What about sustainability? I think about it a lot — we do everything we can, we reuse all our fish boxes and bring them back to Coastal Seafoods, we save all of our fish bones and bring them to our farmers for their soil. I try to lessen the impact we're making and I think about wine too; shipping wine bottles isn't necessarily the most sustainable thing to do. But you know, seafood and wine are things we love, and we choose to utilize those resources.

Do you recognize critics when they come in? Occasionally I'll spot them, but I guess I'm really bad about it because I never really do. It's probably good, because I'd have a meltdown and totally freak out.

What do you think about the importance of critics? Do you think the recent diminishing role of critics in some cities is better or worse for restaurants? I think it's worse for restaurants. Eating is expensive, I'm honored when diners choose to spend their money in my restaurant. I think critics can go out there and disseminate that information and tell people where to spend their money so people aren't A, missing out on good opportunities, and B, maybe it's harsh, but wasting their money dining out places that aren't good, and losing their enthusiasm for what we do. So I think it's really important. We have a really tight critic community and it's pretty friendly.

What do you think the pros and cons of attending culinary school are? I am glad I went. I am. I've had a few cooks I've encouraged to drop out, though, and I maybe wish that I would've. It's so expensive, I paid $42,000 to go. You learn fundamentals and it's super important and I remember things, basic things I learned that maybe I don't put into practice every day. Knowledge is power. Education is invaluable.

If you're a cook and you can get into the right kitchens and learn, you can learn all of that and you're gonna learn it hands on. You'll learn what it's really like in a restaurant; in school it's very different. I think it depends on the person. I would be more of a supporter if it wasn't so expensive. I know food is expensive but I think if it's poorly run, poorly managed, you get out and make $10 an hour and have to have two jobs? These poor cooks, it's awful.

· All Jamie Malone Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Aspen 2013 Coverage on Eater [-E-]

Sea Change

806 S 2nd St, Minneapolis, MN 55415

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