Celebrated Minneapolis pastry chef Diane Moua is leaving her post at Bellecour at the end of the year to begin work on her first independent restaurant.
"I'm just so excited," Moua said. The cuisine will draw on her Hmong heritage and French training and will expand her cooking realm beyond pastry and into savory dishes.
"It's going to be everything — what category is this going to fall in? This is going back to my roots. Not just Hmong flavors, but also French and savory food that I don't get to do at work," she said. "When I go home and cook or when I go to my parents', I want to have pork and mustard greens. It sounds simple, but it's what I grew up eating."
Moua's career started as a teenage prodigy at Tim McKee's La Belle Vie, considered the pinnacle of fine dining during its time. Since ascending to lead that restaurant's pastry team, she has ruled the Minneapolis food scene with a reputation as one of the country's best pastry chefs. The new restaurant will be a return to basics for the Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, who also had stops at the high-profile Solera and Aquavit.
When chef and restaurateur Gavin Kaysen made the move from New York to Minnesota, Moua joined his opening team, stacked with culinary heavy hitters, to open Spoon and Stable in 2014.
"She was one of our first hires here at Spoon and Stable," Kaysen said. "It was funny, I remember her sending me a direct message on Twitter, 'Who's going to be your pastry chef?' And I was in the kitchen in New York and I was like, I don't know. Do you want to be involved? And she said yes."
She would go on to oversee his pastry program as the restaurant group expanded to include Bellecour, Demi and Bellecour Bakery at Cooks of Crocus Hill, and her towering — and universally loved — crêpe cake would become a local icon. She's a two-time nominee for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef, a national honor.
Former Star Tribune restaurant critic Rick Nelson took note of her work at Spoon and Stable, saying the "cerebral, sculptural and unfailingly refreshing desserts are more than just meal cappers. They're ingenious multi-dimensional balancing acts, revealing complex texture, temperature and density disparities while simultaneously unlocking soft-spoken flirtations between sweet and salty."
Moua worked her way into the industry with the tenacity and ironclad work ethic instilled in her by her parents, farmers who could not be more excited about their daughter's new project.
"My mom said, 'We need to know how many veggies to plant next year.' I said, 'Mom — you guys do you. Don't worry about me.' " Her father said, "I can't bake, but I can do dishes."
Her new restaurant is part of an ongoing conversation surrounding Hmong cuisine that's spearheaded by the children of those who immigrated here.
"There's going to be a shift in generations," said Moua. "The first generation still gardens, like my parents, but we're going to lose that with my generation. My kids aren't going to garden like our parents and grandparents have."
While the cuisine at her new restaurant won't entirely be Hmong, during the growing season it will make use of the St. Paul Hmong farmers market, a favorite shopping place of Moua's. When the seasons shift, the restaurant will take its cues from what's fresh.
"I want to do everything. ... I'm going to do a weekend special with my mom's sesame balls. I can create a few great sauces. I have a list of ideas," she said.
But those are the only details Moua is ready to share right now. She's still touring restaurant spaces in Minneapolis and the plan is to open at some point in 2023. As for the name and dining hours, we will have to wait.
"This has been a dream for a long time," she said. "A few years back if you'd asked me, I'd have said I wasn't ready. I'm ready now."