When chef Gavin Kaysen decided to leave New York City’s acclaimed Café Boulud to go home to Minnesota and open Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis, he did not expect a group of ladies from a local Lutheran church to be his most formidable critics. Kaysen, a 2007 F&W Best New Chef, clearly has affection for Midwestern comfort-food classics: His menu includes creamed spinach with panko-crusted cheese curds alongside more global recipes like scallop crudo with shiso leaf. But he’d never taken on hot dish, a layered casserole invented by budget-conscious farmwives in the 1930s that came to rely heavily on canned vegetables, creamed soup and crunchy toppings like Tater Tots or chow mein noodles. “Hot dish is a dangerous thing to play with,” Kaysen says. “There will always be someone with a grandma who makes it better.”
F&W decided to test Kaysen’s Minnesotan mettle by asking him first to bring hot dish into 2016, then to invite a few local pros—the ladies of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church—to taste- test his recipes. This community takes its culinary traditions very seriously, but the Mount Olivet crew was won over by Kaysen’s respectful attention. Gathered around a table in the center of Spoon and Stable’s spacious dining room, they stared up at him adoringly. “Chef Gavin is as cute and humble as a hot dish!” exclaimed one smitten judge.
- Creamed Spinach with Fried Cheese Curds
- Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet
- Root-Vegetable Hot Dish with Parsnip Puree
“Hot dish is a dangerous thing to play with,” says Gavin Kaysen. “There will always be someone with a grandma who makes it better.”
The recipes were a resounding success, particularly Kaysen’s version of a chicken and wild rice hot dish his grandmother Dorothy made. Instead of using canned cream of mushroom soup, Kaysen substituted a wild mushroom gravy scented with fresh rosemary and thyme. “I would make this every Sunday!” remarked one taster. The ladies also approved of his cassoulet-like hot dish with merguez sausage, even though the “wienies” were deemed a little risqué for a church potluck. The judges’ only request? A cup of coffee to drink with the hot dish, in true Minnesota fashion.