The Synergy Series, where Spoon and Stable chef/owner Gavin Kaysen invites A-list chefs from around the country to cook lavish dinners in his North Loop restaurant, is returning after a pandemic-induced pause.
"Synergy is such an important part of Spoon and for what I want to create for our community," he said. "I'm so pleased to be able to bring it back."
This year's roster features Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal in Los Angeles, Michael Solomonov of Zahav in Philadelphia, Missy Robbins of Lilia and Misi in New York City and Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., and Per Se in New York City.
All were scheduled for the canceled 2020 series, and it's a group of considerable culinary star power. If the five were to gather all of their James Beard Award medallions and melt them down, there would probably be enough metal to erect a life-size statue of Mr. Beard.
"The whole intention of the series is to invite these chefs here to allow everyone in our community to see what they do, and to allow our teams [at his Spoon and Stable, Demi and Bellecour Bakery properties] to see what they do," said Kaysen. "We want our teams to understand that anything is possible. They may not have the opportunity to move to New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, but that doesn't mean they can't work alongside these people. It's an incredible collaboration."
Since its inception six years ago, the Synergy Series has introduced Twin Cities diners to such marquee names as Grant Achatz, Daniel Boulud, April Bloomfield, Jeremy Fox, Sean Brock, Traci Des Jardins and Dominique Crenn.
What's in it for the visiting chefs? Plenty.
Just ask Missy Robbins. Back when she was in the kitchen at Chicago's legendary Spiaggia, she looked forward to traveling with her boss, chef Tony Mantuano.
"I went to my two chefs de cuisine and said, 'Hey, do you want to go to Minneapolis and cook?' and they were so excited," she said. "I remember how I got so excited to go on trips with Tony. Being exposed to other chefs, in their environment, is so meaningful and it has a real impact. Plus, I could never say 'no' to Gavin."
A charitable component has always been a key part of the program. Kaysen reports that the three previous iterations of the series generated more than $150,000 in donations to nonprofits, including the Children's Cancer Research Fund, the Angel Foundation and the PACER Center.
This year's charitable partners are World Central Kitchen, which was founded by chef José Andrés in 2010 and has provided more than 50 million fresh meals to people impacted by natural disasters and other crises, and Appetite for Change, a decade-old organization that uses food to build health, wealth and social change in north Minneapolis.
"As chefs, we get asked to do charitable events all the time, and it becomes a bit confusing after a while," said Kaysen. "You wonder, 'Where is this going?' and 'What is the impact?' My thought was, 'Let's decide where the money is going to go, and give a percentage of these dinners to local charities.' And what helps make that possible is our sponsors."
Sponsors for the 2021 series include Bell Bank, Steelite International and Upfield Professional, and the American Swedish Institute and Glass House are donating the use of their facilities.
"At the end of the day, their help offsets our costs and allows us to give to charities," said Kaysen. "It's expensive to fly in chefs and their teams, put them up for a few days and buy very expensive ingredients."
Meet and greet
This time around, the series features several new elements. At previous dinners, the tasting menu was devised by the visiting chef. This time around, the guest chefs and Kaysen's staff will alternate, course by course.
"We want to take a bit of the burden off the guest chefs," said Kaysen. "And we want to put some pressure on our team to come up with some fun stuff."
In addition, an abbreviated, lower-priced dinner option, served in the Spoon and Stable bar and lounge, is in the works; prices have not yet been determined.
Finally, a major addition is what Kaysen is calling "Dialogues," noon-hour conversations with all five out-of-town chefs.
Tickets are $10 — all of the proceeds will benefit Appetite for Change — and attendees will be able to submit questions when they purchase their tickets. The target audience? Members of the Twin Cities restaurant community.
"This stems from me wanting to have our local colleagues come out and be a part of the series," said Kaysen. "Not everyone can get a Thursday or Friday night off, and the [dinner] ticket prices aren't for everyone. So how do you make it accessible for people? Most of the people in the industry can show up before their shift starts, and hear what these chefs have to say. It's been a hell of a year, and it's going to be good to get together and see everyone."
Oct. 21-22: Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo.
Nov. 11-12: Michael Solomonov.
Nov. 18-19: Thomas Keller.
Dec. 9-10: Missy Robbins.
If you go: Dinners ($495 and $595) will be held at Spoon and Stable, 211 N. 1st St., Mpls. Dialogues ($10) take place at noon on the second day of each chef's visit at the American Swedish Institute, 2600 Park Av. S., Mpls. (The Nov. 12 discussion with Michael Solomonov will take place at the Holden Room, 145 N. Holden St., Mpls.) Tickets go on sale on Aug. 2 at 10 a.m. at thesynergyseries.com.