Photos by Caitlin Abrams
Gavin Kaysen picnic at the Spoonbridge and Cherry with Stephanie March
It didn’t really start that innocently. Weeks and weeks ago, we came across this beautiful piece byBon Appétit in which chef par excellence Daniel Boulud schooled the magazine on "the art of the French picnic." You know, they went to Central Park, put out a little nosh, and took a few photos. No big deal.
Yeah, not so much. In case you haven't heard, Boulud ended up dropping a three-course French-rosé-fueled frenzy because, as Bon Appétit contends, nobody picnics like Daniel Boulud picnics. And, after a moment of jealously believing this contention, something occurred to us, maybe somebody does picnic like Daniel Boulud picnics and maybe that somebody is right here in the Twin Cities: Daniel Boulud’s protégé, Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable. Surely if anyone was able to one-up the old man, it would be the person to whom he presumably imparted all his tricks? Sure French is French and that’s “fine,” but this is Minnesota where amber waves of grain beckon even in the city and the land is drenched in artisanal glacial waters. I didn’t hate the idea.
And so it happened. If you’ve ever wondered how Minneapolis’ favorite chef tries to one-up his old boss while taking a load off in the shadow of a giant and firmly unstealable spoon, here it is. Gavin Kaysen’s Minnesota picnic, in three acts.
“I don’t really have a lot of time, I kind of have to get back to the restaurant soon,” Kaysen told me. And so we unfurled our 50-plus year-old Faribault Woolen Mill blankets (hand picked from Faribault's archives by the mill's owner expressly for our picnic) and our Foundry Home Goods-curated picnic ware and dug in.
To kick it off, Kaysen boarded up some little nibblets like Lone Grazer cheeses, piles of Red Table cured meats, mustards, and pickled things atop a pristine piece of Mississippi River driftwood. Of course there was bread in the lovely form of tear-and-eat whole wheat sourdough, because a picnic without bread is like a lake without a loon. Hope Creamery butter lolled on marble slabs with curated Swedish butter knives in concert.
Oh, and did we mention the whole-head pig situation? The crispy golden suckling pig head was hollowed out and stuffed with porchetta, redolent of bright herbs and earthy pork bits. A small child wandering by asked if he could trade his popsicle for a bite of the pig’s ear. Because, well, perfection.
We started with a bottle of our finest water, because remember: it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. But our re-hydration was quickly followed by a summery libation. Rosé seemed so inadequate, so we brought along our own bartender, Spoon and Stable’s Robb Jones, to swish and clink a little something together for us. Hollowed out watermelon was given the stick blender treatment and then bumped with local J. Carver barrel-aged gin before being tapped, yes, tapped. Just a light beverage, oui chef?
After Kaysen’s porcine shenanigans, it was time to dig into what Minnesotans like to call “supper.” We dipped into a world of summer bounty. Chilled corn soup touched with vanilla oil (recipe below) took me right back to my hometown corn festival that first year I had braces. Good times. Watermelon and tomato salad was popped with color and freshness. Sugar snap pea salad (recipe below) was truly the best iteration of a church basement potluck winner I’ve seen in years.
Of course, chefs today know the monumental impact of microgreens. Kaysen prefers to cultivate his own hydroponically in to-go containers for maximum portability. You can often find them on his person, along with vintage shears that may have been found in the Prohibition-era rumrunner tunnels beneath his popular North Loop eatery (but are more likely just pulled from Foundry's personal stock).
Hooo golly, that was a spread.
After the plates had been licked clean, it was time for pie. “Diane Yang [Spoon and Stable’s Pastry Chef] hates to make pie, but she’s really good at it.” Kaysen remarked. And why have one tart, when you can have three pies? Go big or go home, indeed. For the pie picking, we dug our forks into a gorgeous passionfruit meringue, a classically latticed cherry pie, and bombastic blueberry crumble. Plus a chocolate pot de crème with toasted brioche whipped cream and such. “I always feel better with pie, like I’ve been living some insane crazy life in another place, and I take a bite of pie and it’s like coming home, to the land of sky blue water.”
During the picnic, Kaysen dialed up Boulud to show him a picture of our spread and taunt him with our ingenuity and total surfeit of class. Of course, chef was sitting at dinner in an outdoor café in Provence with a bottle of Louis in front of him. Damn. Ça va.