Minneapolis, MN, December 1, 2011 — Gather at the Walker Art Center will feature Saul Chavez, chef de cuisine, MASA, as its guest chef on Thursday, January 5, and James Beard Award–winner Tim McKee, executive chef, La Belle Vie, on Thursday, February 2. Chavez and McKee are the latest addition to the unique chef-driven sampler series at Gather featuring prominent local and national chefs.
Gather features a happy hour and full bar with an innovative specialty cocktail menu every Thursday night. On Thursday, January 5, as with the first Thursday of every month, guests can sample two complimentary menu items by guest chef Chavez. Present throughout the evening, he will be serving his culinary designs and be at Gather to chat with guests and answer any questions. Chavez’s two featured items will then be offered for sale on subsequent Thursday evenings throughout January. McKee will be the Gather chef-in-residence on Thursday, February 2, and his featured items will be available on Thursday nights in February.
Saul Chavez, Chef de Cuisine, Masa
Chavez didn’t know that his father’s death, when Chavez was only eleven years old, would foreshadow his future career in the United States.
After his mother joined the work force to support six children, Chavez took over cooking duties for his family—each of his siblings having declined the position of “chef.”
Chavez cooked regional Mexican staples and specialties for his family in Morelia, a mid-sized city in central Mexico’s Michoachan state, for nine years before moving to the US in 1986, at 19, searching for a better life.
Chavez landed a job in Chicago, quickly realizing he was unhappy cleaning industrial equipment, switching flavors from grape to cherry and back again at a Kool-Aid factory. Chavez instead opted to follow his brother who had moved to Minneapolis looking for work. He wanted to go to school, but couldn’t afford it and spoke little English at the time.
Upon arriving in Minneapolis, Chavez landed a job as a dishwasher at the then trendy, now defunct Coco Lezzone. He worked there as a dishwasher from 1986 until 1992, when prolonged road construction forced Coco Lezzone to close, leaving him unemployed.
Chavez spent four years as a line cook, learning the ropes while working at the Galleria and Hopkins Sydney’s restaurants, but left after realizing he wanted a change of venue. After spending a year as chef at Ciao Bella, he landed with the D’Amico family, becoming sous chef at Campiello in 2002.
Whether working in the restaurant, traveling, researching food concepts, or testing recipes, Chavez always carries his signature notepad, continually learning, taking notes and refining his craft.
Upon returning from a holiday trip to Mexico in December 2004, Chavez was called in to executive chef Jay Spark’s office at D’Amico & Partners, and learned he was being tapped by D’Amico to run their newest venture, MASA, a high-end Mexican restaurant featuring regional Mexican cuisine.
Chavez, 42, lives in Hopkins with his wife Sarah, also from Mexico, whom he met in Minnesota, and their two children.
The Chavez family eats primarily Mexican cuisine at home.
Tim McKee, Chef/Owner La Belle Vie
James Beard Award–winner and D’Amico alum McKee is one of the nation’s most recognized and respected chefs. In addition to receiving America’s most coveted culinary award, he has been lauded nationally in the pages of Food & Wine and Gourmet magazines for his restaurants, La Belle Vie and Solera; praised by food authorities such as R.W. Apple of the New York Times; selected as “Restaurateur of the Year” by the Star Tribune and Mpls./St. Paul magazine; and named “Best Local Chef”–seven times–in City Pages’ annual “Best of the Twin Cities” issue. Moreover, McKee has the unique distinction of having earned critical and popular praise across culinary genres.
Like so many talented chefs, McKee’s career in the food profession is the result of a fortunate detour. Born in Los Angeles and raised in St. Paul, McKee began cooking professionally while a student at the University of Minnesota, where he studied anthropology and geology. One of his first positions was in the kitchen of Figlio restaurant, predecessor of Il Gatto. In 1990, during his last quarter at the University, he took a job at Azur restaurant under Chef Jay Sparks. McKee then made the fateful decision to delay his search for a “real job.” That led to his transfer to another D’Amico & Partners restaurant, D’Amico Cucina, where within a year he was named executive chef.
Then Food & Wine magazine named him one of the country’s “Best New Chefs” and suddenly McKee realized that perhaps he could make a career out of his love of cooking. And he’s never looked back.
Within a year, he opened his own restaurant, La Belle Vie, serving French Mediterranean fare in Stillwater, Minnesota. Gourmet named it one of “America’s Top 50 Restaurants.” In his four-star review, Star Tribune critic Jeremy Iggers declared La Belle Vie the serious gourmet’s “ultimate Twin Cities dining experience.” And to this day, it remains the ZAGAT Survey’s highest rated restaurant in Minnesota.
In 2003, McKee opened his second restaurant, Solera, a sexy, sleek homage to Spanish cuisine. Food & Wine magazine promptly named it one of the “World’s 10 Best New Restaurants.” The Star Tribune named McKee and his partner, Josh Thoma, its first “Restaurateurs of the Year.” Gourmet magazine listed it as a top pick for “Where to Eat Now.” TV host and food celebrity Andrew Zimmern declared it a “foodies’ delight” and summed up the restaurant’s appeal by asking, “Can you say ‘wow’ in Spanish?”
McKee followed up his success with La Belle Vie and Solera with more restaurants, including the jaunty and spicy Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar in Stillwater; the irreverent Barrio Tequila Bar and Café in downtown Minneapolis; Sea Change, a sustainable seafood restaurant located in the Guthrie Theater; and Masu Sushi and Robata, a contemporary Japanese restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis which opened in 2011 and has quickly attracted a devoted following.
McKee is also the Vice President of Culinary Development for Parasole Restaurant Holdings.
Created and operated by D’Amico + Partners, Gather serves lunch six days a week (Tuesday–Sunday, 11:30 am–2:30 pm) and a small plates menu on Thursday evenings (5–9 pm), in conjunction with the Walker’s Target Free Thursday Nights. In addition to the events in Gather, Target Free Thursday Nights feature programs throughout the Walker, including performances, artist talks, and gallery exhibitions. For more information, visit http://calendar.walkerart.org/tftn/index.wac
WHERE: Gather at the Walker Art Center—1750 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
WHEN: Saul Chavez, chef de cuisine, MASA; free samples of featured items: Thursday, January 5, 5–9pm. Tim McKee, chef/owner, La Belle Vie; free samples of featured items Thursday, February 2, 5–9pm.
Happy hour drink and small plate specials: 5–7 pm every Thursday
Target Free Thursday Nights sponsored by Target