Eastside, less than a year old, is about to get its third chef. And owner Ryan Burnet is thrilled.
Current chef Nick Dugan — who opened the downtown restaurant as chef de cuisine to executive chef Remy Pettus, then took over the kitchen in February — is moving on to work for Gavin Kaysen at Spoon and Stable. And guess what? Everyone says they’re happy.
“Nick and I have become good friends, and I could tell that maybe there was an inkling that he wanted other challenges,” said Burnet. “It’s a situation that could have been dicey, but it wasn’t. Gavin is lucky to have Nick in his kitchen, and Nick is going to learn a lot from Gavin.”
Burnet said he’s struck by how collaborative the whole process turned out, particularly since similar situations have tended to run in the opposite direction.
“We had candid conversations, we were all honest with one another, and we were all operating in good faith,” said Burnet. “It has ended up being a great deal for everyone, and for me, that’s really refreshing. This is how these interactions should go.”
Kaysen agrees. “It’s really nice when the stars align,” he said. “There’s that word ‘poaching,’ but it really has nothing to do with it. If people want to leave, they have the right to do so, there are no contracts involved. Besides, this is a small town. Ryan and I stayed in touch through this whole process. It’s better to be respectful with people, and to help them along in their careers rather than hinder them.”
Dugan’s replacement is a familiar name to 112 Eatery’s legions of fans. He’s Dennis Leaf-Smith, 112’s longtime chef de cuisine. For Leaf-Smith, the new job at Eastside is a homecoming, following a stint in Philadelphia.
“He wanted to get out of Minnesota and check out the East Coast,” said Burnet. “Now’s he’s checked it off his list, and he’s excited to come back.”
Burnet said he consulted his Bar La Grassa and Burch business partner, Isaac Becker, who was Leaf-Smith’s longtime boss at 112 Eatery.
“I called him to get a little intel, and to kiss the ring,” said Burnet with a laugh. “And Isaac said, ‘Ryan, this would be a perfect match for Eastside.’”
Leaf-Smith starts at Eastside on Sept. 1, the day after Dugan’s last dinner. Dugan will join the sous chef ranks at Spoon and Stable, said Kaysen.
“I call it ‘stacking the bench,’” said Kaysen, who noted that he’s building up his team to smooth the transition when his second restaurant opens (“Probably in March”) in downtown Wayzata. “We’re going to have lots of opportunities, and we’re excited to get Nick in to be a part of the team,” he said.
Kaysen was calling from California’s Napa Valley, where he and other coaches from top-rated restaurants around the country have gathered for Bocuse d’Or training. He had spent the morning touring the new kitchen at the French Laundry, still under construction and designed by Snøhetta, the red-hot Norwegian architectural firm.
“Have you ever had design envy?” said Kaysen with a laugh. “I experienced it to the tenth degree today.”