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Andrew Zimmern on 3 Ocean-Friendly Chefs: Tim McKee

Tim McKee Sea Change Minneapolis

Photo by Tim Davis

When it comes to restaurant concepts, McKee often thinks about what he feels is missing in the Minneapolis food scene, then creates it himself.

Locale: Sea Change, 806 South 2nd Street

The Gist: Sea Change started with the room. Located in the Guthrie Theater, designed by famed French architect Jean Nouvel, this contemporary space is simply stunning. In 2009, Tim McKee jumped on the opportunity to take over the restaurant, and with the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Mississippi River, as well as the theater’s abundant use of the color blue, a seafood concept seemed the perfect fit.

The Family: McKee, who took home the 2009 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest for his flagship French restaurant, La Belle Vie, is a culinary jack-of-all-trades. His family of Twin Cities restaurants includes a Spanish tapas joint (Solera), a downtown hot spot boasting some of the best Mexican street food north of the border (Barrio) and a unique homage to the art of Jamaican jerk (Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque).

The Philosophy: When it comes to restaurant concepts, McKee often thinks about what he feels is missing in the Minneapolis food scene, then creates it himself. “Most seafood restaurants I’ve been to have either been crab shack or steakhouse—with some fish,” says McKee. And why sustainable? “You see a lot about farm-to-the-table agriculture, but there’s not enough being said about sustainable seafood. I think that’s in a dire situation. We have to seriously think about how, where and why we’re buying our seafood.”

The Best-Seller: A born and bred Midwesterner, McKee thought he understood his audience. Make killer seafood dishes, but offer good meat and potato options as well. Within weeks of opening its doors, the grilled octopus with salsa verde, Spanish peppers and pimentón became the bestseller. “We get more comments on that dish than anything else,” McKee says. “It’s one of our top five sellers. In fact, we sell more octopus than all of our beef dishes combined.”

The Sources: You’ll find only the freshest fish and shellfish from sustainable fisheries and environmentally responsible farms. Additionally, the restaurant receives daily reports on where fish comes from, and double-checks those reports against several sources to make sure it is indeed sustainable. Sea Change is transparent: All fish sources are listed on a chalkboard so patrons can see where the fish is from, in some cases what vessel they came in on. Says McKee, “We’ve been able to have conversations with the people on the boat, which is pretty cool. It makes the world a little smaller.”

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