Chef Jamie Malone has been busy: Her year-old Minneapolis restaurant, the Grand Cafe, was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Restaurants of 2018, and her decadently high-end, French-inspired dessert—a doughnut filled with chicken-liver mousse and topped with a burnt-honey and pastry-glitter-accented gastrique glaze—was named the magazine’s 2018 Dish of the Year.
In October, the chef—who herself is a F&W Best New Chef Alum—and her business partner took the reins of another Minneapolis restaurant, Eastside, and are revamping the menu and cocktail program while remaining open for service.
Cooking was the only thing Malone, 36, ever wanted to do. And now, with two of her own restaurants, she’s creating her own unique take on French cuisine in her hometown.
Remaking a Classic
Malone bought the Grand Cafe, a 70-year-old (give or take) Minneapolis restaurant, after the owners reached out for help. “The place had tons of soul,” she says. “It was really cool; it was quaint. I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’ And I just fell in love with it.”
She worked as the chef for about a year before officially buying the eatery from the owners. She closed for about three months, had the kitchen completely redone, and mostly DIY-ed the front-of-house renovations herself with friends and family.
“I’ve always kind of had this romantic relationship with French food and I found the perfect spot to cook it in,” she says. “It felt perfectly messy.”
French, but With a Twist
When Malone was creating the menu for the Grand Cafe, she drew from her training at Le Cordon Bleu, as well as her passions. The menu boasts classics like pâté en croûte and beef tartare—but then there’s that liver mousse doughnut.
“I knew I wanted it to be old-fashioned food: blanquette de veau, cassoulet. But I didn’t want it to feel rustic,” she says. “I put quirky things on the menu to balance it out. It’s very strictly French, but with a few Japanese touches to give it a little modern lightness.”
Diners often look past chicken on a restaurant menu, but at the Grand Cafe they’d be wise to ignore that inclination. Chicken breast is brined for 24 hours before the skin is peeled back and allowed to dry out for a day. Mousse made from leg meat is then piped between the skin and the breast meat, and the chicken is cooked at intervals: seven minutes cooking, seven minutes resting, repeat. The herbs used and the side dishes change with the seasons. Malone says this dish surprises and delights diners.
Another example of the chef’s modernity in the kitchen: roasted oysters and cream topped with potato chips. She came up with the dish while eating with a friend: “We always cook in his open hearth, just sitting on the floor and throwing stuff in. We had oysters, so we put them on the fire and topped them with cream, and we happened to have an open bag of kettle chips that I crushed up and put on top.”
“It’s very Parisian to build yourself on contradictions,” she says.
Keeping It Fresh
Malone likes to keep her menu curated and consistent throughout the year, which stands in opposition to the ever-changing small-plate trend that’s present in so many hip restaurants. Of course, seasonality will change some of the ingredients in a dish, but the chef insists that a menu that isn’t full of surprises is good for both the customer and the kitchen.