Minneapolis’ Young Chef in the Spotlight
Mike DeCamp, the incredibly talented and creative chef de cuisine at Minneapolis’ award winning La Belle Vie, just announced he’s leaving his longtime mentor Tim McKee to open a new restaurant with Jester Concepts (the team behind Borough and Coup d’etat). They’ll be taking over Hotel Ivy’s first floor restaurant, formerly Porter & Frye, refreshing the space with much needed renovations and a coastal Italian menu. DeCamp is the most talented chef in the Upper Midwest who didn’t have his own restaurant. Until now. He is also one of five competing chefs at this weekend’s Cochon 555 event, a touring culinary competition that showcases five chefs, five heritage breed pigs and five winemakers to promote hog breed diversity and whole animal utilization. Below, DeCamp talks about preparing for Cochon, moving on from La Belle Vie and the Minneapolis restaurants he can’t live without.
AndrewZimmern.com: How do you prepare for an event like Cochon 555?
Mike DeCamp: By exactly that, preparing. I worked on the menu and tweaked it here and there from the first day I found out that I was involved in the event. Also, having a set plan for the week as far as prep goes. I guess I’d say that being organized is the most important part for me. Plus, having a team that knows how to have fun, and I think I accomplished that!
AZ.com: Tell us about the farm where you are getting your pig. What type of heritage breed pigs are they raising?
MD: The farm I’m using is Elmbrink, they have been a farm since 1956. They started as a dairy farm and operated as a dairy farm until 2010. They breed mostly Red Wattles, but also have Tamworth and Berkshire in their herd. The hogs can pasture if they like and are fed corn, soybeans and the spent grains from the Waconia Brewing Company. Lori has been so nice throughout the process and I’m excited to be using their pig. I hope that I can use them in the future and I can’t wait to have them taste what we’ve made with their pig!
AZ.com: What part of the pig are you most excited to work with? Can you give us any hints as to what you’ll be preparing?
MD: I’m just excited to work with the whole thing! We do it every now and then at La Belle Vie, but it’s not a weekly thing, or anything like that. I guess I’m just excited to make all the dishes and work ALL the parts into what we’ll be making and serving to everyone attending. As for any hints as to what I’m making, I’m thinking global in some ways and ice cream is definitely in the works.
AZ.com: Who do you think will be your toughest competitor?
MD: Every single one of the competing chefs is a force to be reckoned with. I’m trying not to think too much about what they’re making or I’d lose my mind! Let’s just put it like this, if I don’t win, I’d like to see Jim take it down. He’s a really good friend; I just love the guy. But every one of the chefs is deserving of a win. It’s wide open and I think that’s why it’s so fun.
AZ.com: We hear you’re leaving La Belle Vie to take over Hotel Ivy’s first floor restaurant. What made you decide it was time to move on?
MD: I am leaving in body, but I’d like to think that a little piece of me will remain in that restaurant forever. I love everyone there like family and will miss them greatly. They may not see me on a daily basis, but I’ll be back frequently. Moving on was a hard choice for me, but after meeting with the guys from Jester and some friends that work for them, and hearing about the concept that they wanted in the space at the Ivy, I was on board.
AZ.com: What will the menu look like? Will you renovate the space?
MD: The concept is costal Italian. The menu will have lots of crudos, pastas and stuff that you’d expect to see on an Italian restaurant menu. There will be a few twists of course, and everything will definitely be done in my style. The space is being completely redone. It’s going to look beautiful.
AZ.com: What lessons from Tim McKee will you take with you when you open the new restaurant?
MD: Everything. You know, as does everyone, Tim is and will always be the single most important person I’ve ever had in my life. My wife and daughter, of course, are in a category above this, but you get the idea. Tim’s influence will be felt throughout the restaurant. When I came to work for Tim in ’97, I was just a young cook without a soul. Tim helped me find myself in every way… more than just as a cook. I came to work for him a boy and I’m leaving a man. This restaurant, for me, is a place that I can say thank you to Tim for everything that he has done for me in the past. It’s my way of showing respect. The main lesson I’m hoping to bring with me is to have fun. In the end, we are feeding people and that is supposed to be fun. It’s one thing that Tim always tries to remind us of. Have fun!
AZ.com: Name three Twin Cities restaurants you couldn’t live without.
MD: That’s a tough one. I don’t want to make anyone mad at me so I’m going to keep it like this: La Belle Vie for no other reason than it’s the best. Second, I’d have to say Quang, and third, I’d have to say the Lions Tap for a burger and a root beer. If I could have another two spots, I’d add Dusty’s and Chris & Rob’s. Three is way too short of a list. Heck, 25 might be too short of a list for me!
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
MD: About 20 liters of sparkling water, tons of hot sauce, salad stuff, left over fried rice, too much vermouth and some wine. Oh and about 75 Asian condiments.
About Mike DeCamp
Chef Michael “Young Chef” DeCamp is an adventurous cook who loves learning new things and experimenting with different ingredients. Over the years, he has worked at several top-rated Twin Cities and Chicago-area restaurants, including Campiello, at both its Eden Prairie and Uptown locations, D’Amico Cucina in Minneapolis, NoMI in Chicago, and, of course, La Belle Vie.
But regardless of the number of restaurants and cities he’s worked in, DeCamp seems to be continually drawn back to wherever executive chef/owner, Tim McKee is working at any given time.
“While I’ve left to learn how to do different things or experience different cities, who wouldn’t want to work for the best chef and restaurant in the city?” explains DeCamp. “While Tim knows what he wants, I’ve gotten to a place where he now lets me play and experiment – to try new things and ingredients. I love working with Tim.”
DeCamp first worked with Chef McKee in 1997 when the award-winning chef was still at D’Amico Cucina. Just 17 years old at the time, DeCamp’s youth earned him the nickname, “Young Chef,” which has stayed with him over the years.
In 1998, when McKee opened La Belle Vie in Stillwater, Minn., DeCamp followed. In late 1999, DeCamp left to work at Campiello, but he returned just two years later. In 2002, curiosity had DeCamp moving yet again, this time to the Windy City to work at the award-winning, NoMI in the Park Hyatt hotel. While in Chicago, DeCamp took advantage of one of the country’s top food towns by volunteering at several of the top area restaurants to gain even more experience.
He returned to the Twin Cities in 2004 as executive chef for the Twin Cities Grill, Mall of America. However, when Chef McKee announced he would relocate La Belle Vie to Minneapolis in Oct. 2005, DeCamp couldn’t resist, and once again returned to work with his favorite chef and mentor.
La Belle Vie is the Twin Cities top fine-dining restaurant. Featuring French Mediterranean cuisine, it is owned and operated by James Beard-nominated chef, Tim McKee, along with partner Bill Summerville. The dining room showcases an ever-changing chef’s tasting menu, while the more relaxed lounge offers hand-crafted cocktails and a variety of small plates and lighter fare. In 2006, Gourmet magazine named La Belle Vie one of “America’s Top 50 Restaurants” and Food & Wine proclaimed it as having one of the country’s “Best New Wine Lists.”