Tim McKee, arguably the state’s dean of chefs, has taken on a new job. And it’s not in a restaurant.
McKee is of course known as the James Beard award-winning mastermind behind La Belle Vie, the grand cuisine palace that closed, after a sparkling 17-year-run, in October 2015. But he’s also spent the past six years as a partner and culinary director of Parasole Restaurant Holdings, the company that operates Manny’s Steakhouse, Chino Latino, Salut Bar Americain, Mozza Mia, Burger Jones and others.
That is, until this week, when he joined the Fish Guys as a partner.
The 24-year-old wholesale seafood company, headed by Mike Higgins and Brent Casper and based in a newly rehabbed Ovaltine plant in St. Louis Park, connects Minnesota with freshwater and ocean suppliers in more than 15 countries.
“I’m pretty damned excited about this,” said McKee (pictured, above, at Libertine, in a 2014 Star Tribune file photo). “This gives me the opportunity to connect with the product in a way that I didn’t know was out there. I thought I pretty much knew what was going on in the world of fish, I’ve always thought that that was something that I had down. But I started on Monday, and it seems that what I knew is less than the tip of the iceberg. I’m not really sure how my role will unfold, and there are probably opportunities outside the core business that we can explore, but right now it’s such an exciting learning opportunity.”
He said that he views the new venture with the Fish Guys in the same way that he viewed the beginning of his relationship with Parasole.
“I’d always worked in small, independent restaurants, and one of the things you don’t see is the organization and business acumen that a large company like Parasole can provide,” he said. “I felt that that was a hole in my makeup that I really wanted to investigate, to look at the business from a different angle. I really learned a lot from those guys. They’re geniuses. Parasole serves 2.3 million guests a year. That’s a profound influence on this market. And now I have an opportunity to learn a different side of the business.”
He already is.
“It’s more foreign territory than I’d anticipated,” he said with a laugh. “Every day we have inventory meetings, and it’s complicated, like air traffic control. It makes me remember all the times I lit my rep on fire because I didn’t have the fish I wanted when I needed it. Now I have a much better understanding about what it takes to make it happen. Had I known then what I know now, I’d have been a lot more patient.”
McKee said that he’s still figuring out his role at the Fish Guys.
“Everything is evolving,” he said. “I’m just diving in and seeing where it goes. It’s a new page, and it was kind of a leap of faith. It didn’t come easy, because it’s changing gears in a dramatic way. I see the path, but it’s been a bit of a head-scratcher to tell people about it.”
One question that invariably pops up: Does this mean he’s exiting the cooking side of the restaurant business?
“I’m not ruling out restaurants in my future,” he said. “It’s an evolutionary path. It’s super-exciting.”