Jim Christiansen of Union: Chef Chat, part 2

We step inside Union to chat with the head chef/doughnut hole master
We step inside Union to chat with the head chef/doughnut hole master

After a career in some of the best kitchens in the Twin Cities and one famous restaurant closure, chef Jim Christiansen has landed behind the burners at Union in downtown Minneapolis.  Yesterday, in part 1 of our chat with Christiansen, we discussed his time learning from the greatest chefs around town and in Denmark. Today we talk about coming home, going out, and the dangers of mucking around with funnel cakes.

See also: Jim Christiansen of Union: Chef Chat, part 1

What was the first thing you learned how to cook?

I'm not sure. Maybe popovers?  They're really amazing -- the whole souffle appeal.  I remember thinking they were really cool and so crunchy and airy.  That was when I realized that cooking could be cool.

Did you come from a food family?
Yes. My mom is a wonderful cook -- a lot of scratch cooking. 

My grandpa was a farmer in North St. Paul.  I just thought that was normal, like everybody's grandpa has a sweet farm in North St. Paul. I wish it was still there.

What's your favorite date night restaurant in town?
We don't actually go out to eat a lot.

Chez couch?
Yeah, I guess when we do go out, it's often Lion's Tap off 212. Um, Grand Mandarin... Yeah, we don't go out a lot.  I have to get out and eat more!

When we do stay home, we get takeout Indian from Taste of India and hang out on the couch.

How did you come up with the idea of the savory doughnut holes?
It started out as an idea of savory funnel cake originally.  I made a batter and fried it. It got huge, just a greasy ... [makes a gagging face].

I started looking for a machine that would make doughnut holes.

And they're aebleskiver, right?
Yeah, I had one.

Where did the idea originate?
People like funnel cakes and people like mini doughnuts. I was just thinking of small plates, something salty, vinegary, something with a lot of flavor -- like a little salad, kind of an amuse. I wanted something that would go really well with a beer or one of our great cocktails.

Those doughnut holes seem to be the dish to order.
People have gone nuts for them. Have you had them?

Yes, and I loved them. I also had the sweetbreads, but I wonder how well those sell for people who aren't as into offal?
They're doing really well. I think Minneapolis diners are more sophisticated than they get credit for. Also, the suckling pig is doing well, one of my favorite entrees.  I also love the apple salad.

We're also doing a lot of local food.  The chicken is from Kadejan farms. The duck is Au Bon Canard. Squash is from Constantine. We have cheese from Lovetree Farms and Pleasant Ridge.

Local has got to be difficult on this scale.
It is. We're doing it wherever we can. We can't do all local. I think it's just the difference in the taste of the product. You can tell when it's been treated the right way.

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