Chef Admits to Spoon Kleptomania

Chef Gavin Kaysen with the spoon that launched his obsession. Courtesy of Brent Herrig
By Chelsea Morse Posted October 10, 2014

The forthcoming Minneapolis restaurant Merchant will display 2007 Best New Chef Gavin Kaysen's collection of spoons pinched from restaurants around the world.

At the top of our list of new fall restaurant openings is Merchant, the forthcoming Minneapolis spot from 2007 Best New Chef Gavin Kaysen. We’re super excited for his French-inflected menu, which is still top-secret, but, we can confirm, perfect for cozy fall weather. The restaurant's design will reveal the chef’s incorrigible pickpocket habits: Gavin Kaysen is a shameless spoon stealer. At Merchant, he’ll display a selection from his collection of nearly 500 spoons, pinched from restaurants around the world.

“It started when I was about 20, working as a pastry cook at Auberge de Lavaux in Switzerland,” he says. “The pastry chef was trying to teach me how to do a quenelle of ice cream and I couldn’t figure it out. I took his spoon home to practice in my apartment, and when I finally realized that it was the spoon itself that was the key, I took it. When I look at that spoon now, I think back fondly to the six months of my life I spent practicing in my apartment with a tub of beef fat from the restaurant.” From there, he began pocketing spoons everywhere.

A few of his favorites:

I framed the spoon I took from Restaurant Paul Bocuse, which says P.B. on the back. I had dinner in the kitchen with Mr. Bocuse himself and my commis Brandon Rogers, who’s now the chef de cuisine at Benu in San Francisco. When Mr. Bocuse stood up in the middle of dinner to reprimand a young intern who was cutting the melon incorrectly, the spoon went right into my pocket.”

A short-handled spoon that was used to serve the famed El Bulli’s spherical olive dish. “It was a gift from Daniel Bouludwhen I left Café Boulud. He gave it to me in a beautiful briefcase full of spoons from all over.”

A bone marrow spoon from lunch in San Francisco (he doesn’t remember the restaurant – or perhaps he’s reluctant to say) with chefs Michael Symon and Chris Cosentino. “The chef world knows about my addiction,” he says. “Michael was like, ‘That’s a nice spoon. You gonna take that?’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’”

A giant commemorative spoon from the French Laundry. “I’d brought a spoon as a gift for Timothy Hollingsworth, the chef at the time, who collects antique spoons. I sent it to him through the waiter, and a little while later, the waiter returned with a beautifully polished, foot-long spoon from Tim. I turned it over, and on the back was an engraving to commemorate the restaurant receiving three Michelin stars. The next time I ran into Thomas [Keller], he said, ‘You got one of the good ones!’ They’d had them made as special gifts.”

An ornate spoon decorated with mushroom designs from Restaurant Régis & Jacques Marcon in Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid in France. “The chef’s forte is foraging mushrooms, so all of their spoons have three tiny mushroom caps on them. I love it.”

A spoon pilfered from Café Boulud, where he was chef de cuisine for seven years. “I took it when I dined there with a group of friends in 2005, long before I worked there. I sat on table 45 and had the rabbit special.”

A spoon from Sona in Los Angeles. “I had dinner there when David Myerswas the chef, and at the end of the meal, they brought out a cigar box with the check. I thought that was strange, but when I opened the box, there was a perfectly polished spoon on a white linen cloth. The general manager came over and smiled and said, ‘Chef, we thought we’d do it for you.’ So I reached into my pocket to give them back the one I’d already taken.”

He’s unapologetic about his odd practice: “I take them from special places that inspire me. When I look at them, I remember the meal, the company, the wine.” But with the opening of Merchant, he has a new perspective as well. “Now that I’m the person who buys the silverware and sees the bills, I’m terrified that all of my spoons will exit the restaurant in the first two months.”

Related: Fantastic Fall Recipes
How to Make French Onion Soup
Fall Produce

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