New Four Seasons Minneapolis restaurant Mara will be chef Gavin Kaysen’s ode to the French Riviera

The much-anticipated new restaurant from Gavin Kaysen, one of Minneapolis’ top chefs, could be a case study in why people should keep journals from their youth.

When Mara opens in June at the new Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis, the restaurant will reflect Kaysen’s travel memories from the time he was a 20-something young chef in Switzerland. On weekends and during ample vacation time, Kaysen would take the train down to the south of France. He’d travel alone, and write about it.

“I remember this moment of sitting down in the Riviera, in Nice, and I had never had panisse [chickpea flour fritters] before, and I just really fell in love with what I was watching unfold,” he said.

Being away from family and friends, in a place where he didn’t speak the language, Kaysen channeled his isolation into curiosity about the region’s gifts, both in food and craftsmanship.

“And that’s where these experiences alone just gave me a ton of time to reflect and write and dream,” he said.

Years later, Kaysen was working in New York as the executive chef of Daniel Boulud’s flagship restaurant Daniel. In 2011, Boulud opened a coastal Mediterranean restaurant, Boulud Sud, and Kaysen was charged with testing some of the recipes. The experience “triggered” memories of his time in Europe, and “I somehow filed away in my brain that I’d love to open up a Mediterranean restaurant at some point,” he recalled. When the Four Seasons approached him, that was his pitch.

Kaysen drew from those experiences and his journal writings during the three-year process to develop Mara, an all-day restaurant and bar that will highlight the food of 22 countries touching the Mediterranean Sea.

The restaurateur behind Spoon and Stable, Demi and two Bellecour Bakery locations, Kaysen is also responsible for the downtown Minneapolis hotel’s more casual Socca Café, named for another chickpea flour delicacy. The cafe, also opening in June, will offer grab-and-go options.

Both new dining concepts were announced Wednesday. Reservations will be released in May, with information to come at mararestaurantandbar.com.

“There is so much opportunity for us to play with different spices and different types of cuisine,” Kaysen said. Seafood, of course, will play a starring role, including a shareable whole branzino. So will meats, such as a tableside-carved T-bone steak, and grains. Overall, Kaysen is taking a more pared-down approach than in his other restaurants, he said.

“When I think of that part of the world, I think about maybe editing the food a little bit more than you’ve seen me do before. When you come to Spoon, there’s typically sauces and garnishes and vegetables and starches and then the protein . You won’t see a lot of that extra stuff,” he said. “If it’s going to be roasted chicken, grilled with a pomegranate glaze and specific spices, it might just be like that with some beautiful sumac pickled onions and charred lemon, because that in itself is what is so delicious about that food. It is perfect as is. We don’t have to do anything else to it.”

Prices aren’t set yet, but Kaysen said the dinner menu will be in line with what guests at Spoon and Stable might expect (entrees in the low $30s) — despite the Four Seasons’ pricey reputation.

“I recognize it is hard to conceptualize a space inside of a Four Seasons Hotel and not automatically think that it is high-end or really fancy and/or really expensive. It is part of the conversation we’ve had for three years,” he said. “Our intent and purpose is to make sure we create a space that’s fun and it’s got good energy. I don’t want people to feel like they can only come here for Mother’s Day brunch. There’s a lot more there.”

The “more” includes breakfast and lunch in a light-filled space that’s “going to feel more casual than when you go in for dinner and order a steak,” Kaysen said. There also will be a “chocolate room,” with street-facing windows that allow passersby a glimpse of chocolatiers crafting treats that will be available to hotel guests and eventually for sale in the cafe.

coming full circle

Kaysen is intimately familiar with the Four Seasons brand; he ran Cafe Boulud at the Four Seasons in Toronto.

Unlike some hotel restaurants that bring in local culinary talent as one-time consultants, Kaysen says he is in this for the long haul. His company, Soigné Hospitality, owns and manages Mara, even though the staff is employed by the Four Seasons.

“I’m not going to open this restaurant and go back to Spoon and Stable and never go back,” he said. “I’ll be there every week.”

His team has been developing the recipes in the Spoon and Stable kitchen since late last year, and some familiar faces in his company are making the move to the Four Seasons, including former Demi sous chef Thony Yang, who is Mara’s chef de cuisine. Four Seasons alum Martin Morelli is the executive chef. Adam Witherspoon, formerly of Martina and a founding partner of the cocktail consultancy and beverage maker 3Leche, will oversee the bar program.

Designed by AvroKO, the window-walled, 124-seat restaurant will incorporate elements of the Mediterranean into the space, such as a red-and-gold palette, warm wood, foliage and chandeliers inspired by olive branches. The bar is set under a gold-painted cove ceiling.

With Mara’s location at a prominent downtown intersection, 245 Hennepin Av. at the corner of Washington Avenue S., Kaysen expects it to attract more than just business travelers.

“I think there’s a huge audience of locals that will enjoy the space and enjoy the feeling of it,” he said.

Opening only a few blocks from three of his other enterprises is Kaysen’s way of committing to the vibrancy of downtown Minneapolis, he said.

“I believe in that neighborhood, and I believe in what it’s done for me in the last eight years,” he said. “I’ve watched that neighborhood grow, and giving back to a community that’s given to me is really important.”

Leave a Comment