Cafe Maude's Burke Forster: Chef Chat

Cooking to the Reggae beat.
Cooking to the Reggae beat.
courtesy of Burke Forster

Burke Forster, head chef at Cafe Maude, has a culinary history rooted in a legendary Minneapolis brunch spot, "My first job was at Poulet on 26th and Lyndale [the space that is now Common Roots], my aunt owned the restaurant, and I was a busboy there when I was 18. One Sunday a cook didn't show, so the chef pulled me into the kitchen and we just clicked--that is when I fell in love with the kitchen." Later he moved out East, first to Boston, then to Nantucket Island, and continued learning the ropes in Burlington, Vermont. Forster later finished culinary school and returned to Boston, where he worked for the next 15 years. It was during this time that he worked as a sous chef for Michael Schlow-- James Beard "Best Chef in the Northeast, 2000"-- at Café Louis, a fine-dining locale in the Boston Natural History Museum. Together, Schlow and Forster opened Radius in Boston, which was named "Best New Restaurant" by Food & Wine. Forster remembers that time fondly, full of connections with great chefs. He traveled to the Beard House, was flown all over the country to cook benefit dinners, and later worked as private chef for a family in Nantucket. Forster returned to the Twin Cities three years ago, and did a stint as head chef at Bacio in Minnetonka, before settling in at Cafe Maude. Forster appreciates a simple style of cooking, focusing on technique while letting the ingredients speak for themselves. He recently created a new lunch menu for Cafe Maude, including a stellar House-Smoked Salmon and Whole Grain Salad, which is his favorite new dish. The Hot Dish had a chance to discuss Burke Forster's love of food and the art of cooking in this three-part Chef Chat.

What was your proudest moment as a chef?
The first weekend when Michael Schlow at Café Louie left me alone to attend a fundraiser in San Diego, Julia Child's assistant called and made a reservation for dinner--just hours after he left. I talked to Michael, got a plan together, and it went very well--her excitement about the food was priceless. I remember we had a six-course tasting menu, including seared scallops with truffles, squab breast, baby beets, lentils, and started with a lobster tart.

What do you think is the best food city in America?
That would be a toss up between San Francisco and New York-- both offer similar variety, but it depends on your taste, SF is more laid back, while New York is all city.

What is your favorite music to cook by?
I listen to reggae, mostly during prep. There is a rhythm to working in the kitchen that I enjoy, and I find it helps to dance around and have fun.

What are the rules of conduct in your kitchen?
In my kitchen it is important to be professional about our careers and to look professional. I expect my staff clean-shaven--well, at least every other day--spotless uniforms, spotless kitchen. I expect everyone who is in my kitchen to have a passion for it--to both take it serious and to have fun. What I find as important as professionalism is being able to laugh at the appropriate moments.

What is your favorite restaurant in America?
That is hard...there are many, and it takes so many influences to make a great restaurant--everyone's ideas and desires are so different. But I would say the Chanticleer on Nantucket Island, from the setting--the island is magical--to the food, classical French with a twist. That is the one restaurant I have enjoyed the most.

What was your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen?
When I was kitchen manager at Vermont Pub Brew at Burlington. It was St. Patrick's Day at 10 a.m., and I was sharpening my knife when a cute waitress mentioned that she was impressed how chefs don't cut themselves when sharpening their knife. At that moment I cut two tendons on my thumb, and had to go to the hospital, and come back to work--it was St. Patrick's at a brewpub. So come 4 p.m. there I was serving haggis in a cast.

We'll return tomorrow with more of our chat with Burke Forster of Cafe Maude.

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Cafe Maude

5411 Penn Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55419


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