Friday, October 18, 2013 at 2:04 p.m.
Umami is here to stay
The chefs of Travail are riding the crest of a crazy beautiful wave. At what seems to be their golden hour, this merry band of culinary mischief makers cannot be stopped. Here's a quick catch up on where they've been and what we can expect to see next.
They were blown away by the success of their Kickstarter campaign
. They made their goal of $75,000 in under six hours. That momentum barely slowed for the duration of their campaign. The final count was 1,090 backers who pledged $255,669.
The four core chefs, James Winberg, Bob Gerken, Mike Brown, and Kale Thome, who make up Travail have hardly been cooling their heels since they rebuilt their original Travail location and opened Pig Ate My Pizza.
They helped demolish the building that will be home to the forthcoming Travail reincarnation and the Rookery, a more casual, cocktail-focused joint.
They've popped up at the Broadway Farmers Market and opened what might be the Twin Cities' first real pop-up restaurant in UMAMI. An abandoned chicken shop was revitalized in record time to become a guerrilla art hot-spot that vibrates with a creative soul you just can't find in the better-heeled parts of town. Hipsters and smartly dressed business folks are driving out to a strip mall in the heart of north Minneapolis, a part of town many have likely never thought they've find themselves dining in. They're lining up to take part in this new brand of dinner theater.
The dining experience involves community tables, orchestrated timing, shared dishes, and liquid nitrogen. The food dazzles in a way that we haven't tasted since Travail shuttered. Even dishes that don't work on every level illicit a giddy glee.
Mike Brown making crepes at Oysterfest because... why not?
Still, it wasn't enough for them to rest on those laurels. The crew pops up just about everywhere. They were at Oysterfest this past Sunday, where Kale Thome took home the prize of being the top shucker. That night they moved over to Icehouse to compete in the Iron Bartender competition, where Winberg and Gerken created cocktails as only these chefs can: a flaming meringue atop a tiny bowl, set atop charred sprigs of thyme. Again, they won their heat and will go on to compete in the semi-finals.
Chef Bob Gerken prepares his Cocktail Flambada at Iron Bartender
But wait -- there's more! Now, they have announced that UMAMI will in fact stay open. The overwhelming ticket sales couldn't hurt. They've sold out every time they release more (for those just wanting a taste, they also offer several dishes for takeout every night for just $5.) You'd think they can't keep up this pace. You would be right. At some point they must return their attention to Robbinsdale to dig in as their new restaurants take shape. What will happen next with UMAMI is another evolution.
The restaurant will take a turn toward dim sum, and they're bringing back an old kitchen chum, Geoff Hausmann, who for the last year has remade the menu at Nordeast's the Sample Room to the delight of meat fans. He's garnered a reputation as the charcuterie whisperer with the stunning work he does on a meat plate. Expect to see those skills mashed with the dumplings of dim sum and a new kind of take on the cuisine to emerge.
They'll also be hosting another pop up (within a pop up) on Monday, October 21, featuring Jordan Slama, normally found behind the bar at Eat Street Social, Jeff Watson, and Michael Lecy of Burch Steak and Pizza. The Asian-inspired menu will include bone marrow, pork dumplings, chicken wings, seared scallops, kalbi, and miso ice cream. (Tickets are available here
As with everything UMAMI, the organic growth into this next chapter isn't entirely charted. The details are yet to be sorted out. They may or may not continue with ticket sales. Time will tell. In the meantime, if you too are playing Travail Whack-a-Mole like us, expect to see at least part of the crew at Icehouse at 8 p.m. this Sunday as they continue in the Iron Bartender competition. Or, just keep your eyes open; these chefs seem to be everywhere at once.
904 W. Broadway Ave., Minneapolis