Signature Dish: Barbette's chef Sarah Master

Chef Sarah Master presents her lamb chops with fingerling potato confit, mache, truffle lavender vinaigrette, celeriac purée
Chef Sarah Master presents her lamb chops with fingerling potato confit, mache, truffle lavender vinaigrette, celeriac purée
Photo courtesy of

In the search for the Twin Cities' best culinary creations, we often come across dishes that stop us mid-bite and force us to reflect on the level of thought and artistry chefs put into their work. The efforts of the chefs are often laborious, and the end results are regularly consumed before the full concept can be appreciated. We've been tracking down some of these dishes to get the chef's side of the story: their thoughts, motivations, and processes. It's our hope that we can give you a deeper insight into the talents of Twin Cities chefs and to have a better understanding of what you're getting when you sit down to dinner.

Barbette is the epitome of French bistro-style dining in the Twin Cities, and for the past year or so, chef Sarah Master has been the woman at the helm. Preparing classic renditions on bistro fare that is deeply steeped in French technique, Master continues the traditions that have made Barbette a favorite spot for droves of hungry Uptown diners.

Master's focus is on locally sourced, sustainable, and seasonal ingredients, which she uses to create dishes that are not overly complicated but are tremendously bold in flavor and are executed with the highest degree of culinary prowess. She has not only worked with some of the biggest names in the Twin Cities food scene, she has also spent time working with some of the nation's top chefs.

Chef Sarah Master of Uptown's Barbette
Chef Sarah Master of Uptown's Barbette
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Like many in the Midwest, Master didn't exactly start off with the best relationship with food. "Growing up, I did not eat a whole lot of great food. You know, I'm from the Iron Range, and we grew up eating pretty heavy dishes -- you know, lots of casseroles. My mom, bless her heart, she tried," Master says.

"There's a story about when my mom and dad got married, all my mom knew how to make was tuna casserole. So every day my dad would go to work and he'd come home and there'd be tuna casserole. Every day. So this went on for a couple of weeks, and then one day my dad came home and took the casserole outside and dumped it out onto the lawn and said 'I will eat anything you make except for tuna casserole," Master says. "So that was kind of a big joke in our family. Any time my mom would make it, my dad would roll his eyes and tell the story again." 

Master says her relationship with food didn't change until she left the state after college graduation. "I didn't really get into food a whole lot until I moved down to New Orleans. I  moved there just kind of on a whim after I finished college. I was going to go down there for a year and party before I came back to go to grad school, and I just stayed," she explains.

Working front of house at a hotel restaurant, she had made friends with a lot of the kitchen staff, and they took to introducing her to a whole new world of food. One of the cooks had a side job at a small bistro, and Master convinced him to talk the owners into giving her a shot on the line. "He had to convince the sous chef to give me a job, and she had to convince the chef, and the chef had to convince the owner that this was a good idea. I didn't have my own knives, I didn't know anything," she says. "They basically said, 'You know, we'll try you out for a day, and if you can't catch on, we're not going to hire you.' I remember when I first got there I was so nervous. I was working a station that had some fryers, a flat-top grill, and a couple burners to cook the vegetables for the grill station. I knew how to fry stuff, so I was like camped out in front of the fryers frying oysters and fried green tomatoes all night and watching what he did. The next day someone got sick in his family, and he had to go back to St. Louis, so it became my station. He had taken a leave of absence for a few weeks, and I just worked my butt off."

The plating of a spring dish
The plating of a spring dish
Photo courtesy of
That job led her down the path of culinary school. During school she received an internship at the Ritz Carlton, which really helped to catapult her career both professionally and stylistically. "My chef at the Ritz Carlton was from France, he worked for Paul Bocuse. The sous chef had worked for Marco Pierre White. There was a lot of talent in that kitchen. People would leave that kitchen to go work for Thomas Keller," Master says. "You really got to see this French-based cuisine there. Not so much of the Creole or Cajun stuff there, but it was really, really, really French."

After working at the Ritz, Master earned the opportunity to work with nationally renowned chef Susan Spicer, where she was able to learn a lot of new techniques. "When I was at Bayona, Susan had lived all over the world. Her father was in the Navy, so she spent some time in Denmark and Europe and everything before settling back in Louisiana, so her menus are really a world menu. She cooks food from all over the world. You got to see a lot of different styles there. We changed almost half of the menu every day," Master recalls.

During her time in New Orleans she began to miss her family and eventually made the decision to move back to the Twin Cities. 

Since she's been back, she has managed to work with some of the most talented chefs in the cities. She worked with Landon Schoenefeld during his stint at Barbette, she helped Brenda Langton open Spoonriver, worked with James Beard Award winner Alex Roberts at Alma, and did a stint in the four-star, four-diamond Ivy Hotel's Porter & Frye. She's now back at Barbette, where she continues to deliver top-quality food.

The dish that Master has shared with us features lamb chops from Shepard Song Farm served with a celeriac puree, confit fingerling potatoes, and mache with a truffle lavender vinaigrette. The dish is a wonderful representation of end-of-winter, early-spring flavors.
The lamb chops are simply seared and roasted to a perfect medium rare. They're perfectly complemented by the earthy, creamy celeriac and the hearty, rich potatoes. The mache adds springtime freshness to the dish, which is all tied together with the earthy and floral vinaigrette.

Master is a clear player in the Twin Cities food scene, and it can be seen and tasted in all of her compositions. Whether you're looking for a nice weekend brunch, a romantic dinner, or a late-night glass of wine and top-quality bistro food, chef Sarah Master and Barbette are definitely worth paying a visit to.

Signature Dish: Barbette's chef Sarah Master
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