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Root for the Home Team
By: Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl | Posted: 07/18/2014
Remember in January, when the Twin Cities experienced the biggest pastry shake up in the whole entire history of the Twin Cities?
It’s all happening again. Diane Yang—at La Belle Vie for a decade—has quit, and plans to join Gavin Kaysen at Merchant when it opens in the fall.
Who’s going to take the high-prestige, high-visibility spot at La Belle Vie? Hold on to your hats, it’s Niki Francioli, formerly of Sea Change, and till very recently pastry chef at Russell Klein’s new Brasserie Zentral.
How is everyone dealing with this? As usual, it’s a festival of Minnesota nice:
“I can’t wait to work with Niki,” Tim McKee said. He knows her work well because she got her start under his restaurant Sea Change. “Of course, Diane’s moving on is a little sad for us, she’s been a friend for so long, but it’s a great opportunity for her so you have to be happy for her. And I have always loved what Niki does, there are really only a handful of really talented pastry chefs in the Twin Cities, and by handful I might be exaggerating. When you work with a pastry chef it’s a great opportunity to do different styles of work, paint on different canvases—it’s really the best opportunity you have to do something completely fresh. I can’t wait to get started with her.”
How upset is Russell Klein at losing Francioli at Brasserie Zentral? Not very. “I have nothing but the best wishes for Niki,” he told me. “The rest of the team is not leaving, and they do the vast majority of production, so I don’t see it as a huge thing for us. It’s a small community that already has a labor shortage, so we’re all always stealing [employees] from each other to some extent, and Niki felt like she had a great opportunity, and I understand that.”
Meanwhile, how happy is Gavin Kaysen, who started this most recent chain of musical chairs? Very happy indeed! Yang is currently in New York staging—that is, training—at Daniel and Café Boulud, so that she can know Kaysen’s background. “What attracted me to having Diane join my team was her enthusiasm,” Kaysen said. “She’s obviously very talented, and people know her. With the open kitchen she’ll have an opportunity to interact with the guests, which I think will be right for her, and a nice change for her, to give her the chance to reinvent herself. Whether it’s New York or Minneapolis, when you work at one place long enough people put you in the box of the food you always do, and I think this is a great opportunity for her and for us to do something new.”
Yup. It’s universal happiness in restaurant land, people. Maybe it’s the pastry situation—a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down? In any event, sweet-tooths of the Twin Cities take note, it is going to be a very sweet, tasty, and competitive autumn.
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a senior editor at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.See bio
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