Special Spoons, Barrel-Aged Fish Sauce, and More of Minneapolis Chef Jamie Malone's Favorite Things

All photographs courtesy of Jamie Malone

Minneapolis' Chef Jamie Malone is the second chef to share secrets in our Kitchen Close-Ups series. A native of the Twin Cities, Malone went to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Minnesota, traveled solo after graduation to Asia to sample street food and market finds, then returned home, cooking at several local institutions before becoming a sous chef at Sea Change, where she then worked (and evidently talked) her way into the top seat. A 2013 Food and Wine Best New Chef (and the only woman that year), she's since been swarmed with offers for appearances and television spots, which she often turns down because she wants to be with her cooks in her kitchen. Here, she shares why it's so special.

Irreplaceable small tool or gadget

We have one tool that we all fight over all the time—our spoons. I know that's really common in a lot of kitchens, but we all seek out the spoons we consider the best for plating and everyone gets attached to their specific spoon. Sometimes you'll jump onto someone else's station to help them plate and bring your spoon and leave it in their bain [water bath], and then that cook will consider it theirs. So I finally decided to buy only spoons with flower patterns on them so that people won't be so inclined to steal them, and I'll always know they're mine. I have one company that I buy on Ebay that I love, Rogers Brothers.

I had one chef who would buy us all a spoon when we started, but they were super heavy—way heavier than I was used to—and I chipped my teeth on it, like, three times, going to taste things. So now I have three chips in my teeth all from the same spoon. I don't use that spoon anymore.

Item worth saving from a kitchen fire

We're really lucky to have a huge walk-in downstairs, so I use it to age stuff and little projects we're working on. We get persimmons* in every year and massage them, and then age them for a year, so I have two year's worth now. And we're always aging meats, and koji [mold] for miso. So I'd save all that stuff that I've been waiting to see come to fruition for years. Most things are replaceable, but not those.

*Chef's note: Aged persimmons kind of turn out like a fruit rollup. To age persimmons, hang them in sunlight, then you massage the pulp in them every three days or so, so that it almost sets. And then you can use them or Cryovac them so that the sugars keep breaking down, becoming more complex.

Family connection

I'm not a hugely sentimental person, but I have one thing: my dad passed away about ten years ago, and after the first article I ever had about myself was printed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, I got a letter from one of his coworkers, a little card, that was really sweet. And that's the one sentimental thing I have that I'll always keep in whatever kitchen I'm cooking in.

Essential ingredients

Barrel-aged fish sauce. It's awesome. Fish sauce alone is awesome, but a couple of years ago I discovered Red Boat makes a barrel-aged fish sauce. If I'm cooking at home or something I'll make a fish sauce / chili / citrus stir fry, which is probably a little intense for a lot of people, but I really love fish sauce. Even using it in such a small quantity that you don't notice it does a lot. We add it to almost every vegetable puree—we have a cauliflower puree with sweetbreads, and there's a little in the cauliflower puree that you'd never know was there, but it gives it a little more umami. I don't know what they age it in—I would guess bourbon barrels but I'm not quite sure. It just kind of rounds things out and makes it softer, and a little more palatable for something that's meant to taste like fish sauce, like a stir-fry. In more delicate applications it provides just a slightly smokier flavor.

Ideal Kitchen Setup

My thing is, if it's out of sight, it's out of mind. So I try to keep everything really visually accessible. I use all the space I have, so if we're doing any project that's aging or requires maintenance over any period of time, I try to keep it in a place that's going to be seen a lot, so that we don't forget about it. And you can only have your menu so big, but we have so many ideas flowing through our brains, I often fear of losing those in our daily consciousness. So anything we're tinkering with is always really strong visually, to remind us of things. That's the ethos to set everything up—it should be inspiring to see all the time.

Secret Weapons

Koji is a mold that you inoculate rice or other grains with, which ferments and then becomes shio-koji, which is then used for sake and soy sauce and those kinds of things. But we make koji here, and if we're cooking duck or steak it gets used as a marinade. We also use it to flavor our burgers instead of salt. It's one of those things that you wouldn't really know was there, that again just adds that umami flavor. And it's pretty fun that our bread baker started using it in hamburger buns and then other things—it works well with yeast for leavening and adding a bit more flavor.

Quirky Practice

We have sea urchin on the raw bar here, so we have to have a minimum order but we don't always go through that much. So we started making a kind of bottarga [typically dried, salted, pressed roe] out of the urchin, and then we'll grate it on pasta any way you'd normally use bottarga, but it's got a floral, perfume-y sea urchin thing, too, and I think it's just kind of magical.

Technique We Should All Be Doing

Interval cooking meats. Let's say you're cooking a rib-eye. Instead of leaving it on the grill until it's whatever internal temperature you want and then letting it rest, you may instead cook it for two minutes and then let it rest for the equal amount of time, to create as much of an equilibrium as you can between the juices and the temperature, so kind of mimicking sous vide cooking, where you get a more even cooking throughout. You get a gorgeous, medium-rare pink all the way through, instead of those layers. And it keeps the juices in a more equilibrium too, so you don't lose that much moisture. It's one of those things, like, "Why didn't we all start doing this years ago? It's so simple." Just make sure it's equal—cooking and resting—back and forth.

Most Thankful For

My cooks inspire me a lot—they're awesome and they work so hard and they care so much, and know that I get a lot of the recognition that they all should be getting. And for sure there are days—not very often, it's very rare—but there are days I don't want to be here and then I come in and they're busting their ass and being awesome, and I'm so glad I'm here. We all work together, no matter what. There's no individual station. We're really fluid and agile, and the more agile and fluid we can be, the more we can adjust.

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