We've got some sweet news coming from Tim McKee's La Belle Vie camp this week. Late Friday we learned that longtime La Belle Vie pastry alum Diane Yang would be taking the lead pastry position at Gavin Kaysen's new Minneapolis restaurant, Merchant, and we've now learned that Niki Francioli will be taking up the reins left behind by Yang at La Belle Vie.
While she may be new to the La Belle Vie team, Francioli is no stranger to the McKee way of doing things. A large part of her reputation was earned as the lead pastry chef at Sea Change, but more recently she's been developing the pastry program for chef Russell Klein at Brasserie Zentral, which opened up shop downtown earlier this spring.
If you follow the careers of local chefs, you'll know that La Belle Vie has turned out the majority of the culinary rock-star talent in the Twin Cities. In addition to Francioli, other top tier La Belle Vie pastry chefs have included the likes of Adrienne Odom, Michelle Gayer, and of course Diane Yang.
"I've been waiting for this opportunity for 12 years. Since I started in pastry, this was my goal," says Francioli. "This is the most prestigious position for a pastry chef in the Twin Cities. It's what I've been working for my entire career."
Filling Yang's shoes is certainly a big job, as Yang has one of the most illustrious pastry careers in town. In addition to La Belle Vie, her resume includes Solera, Aquavit, and Heyday, and she has consulted at a variety of other high-profile restaurants, such as Haute Dish, Icehouse, and the newly opened 6Smith.
In preparation for her newest gig at Merchant, Yang is currently staging in New York at the prestigious Daniel and Café Boulud in order to spend some time getting more familiar with her new employer's culinary lineage. Kaysen earned the James Beard Rising Star award in 2008 while he was serving as the Executive Chef at Café Boulud.
Merchant is set to open sometime this November, but Francioli is expected to officially join the team at La Belle Vie in mid-August.
La Belle Vie has undergone a slew of high-profile departures over the past year, including front-of-house maven Lorin Zinter, main wine guy Bill Summerville, bartender extraordinaire Johnny Michaels, and now pastry queen Diane Yang. Could this mark a new era for La Belle Vie? Are they starting to train a second wave of future knockout chefs to fill the looming cook shortage in the Twin Cities? Only time will tell, but as La Belle Vie has a track record that features James Beard Award nominations and winners as well as Food & Wine best new chefs, we can only imagine that good things lie ahead.
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