In 2005, Goff left his position at the Dakota Jazz Club after 20 years and started teaching the next generation of chefs as a culinary instructor at Le Cordon Bleu–coincidentally, just a few months before I started teaching there myself. Since that time, he has taught just about every class the school has to offer. Now, he’s teaching and cooking in the school’s student-staffed restaurant until May 16.
Chef Goff has an illustrious past. In 1995, I was a line cook at D’Amico Cucina, the flagship restaurant for the growing D’Amico restaurant group in Minneapolis. I worked on the garde manger station (that’s a fancy way of saying I made salads), which was one step above prep cook and a mere two steps above plongeur (that’s a fancy way of saying dishwasher). Meanwhile, Ken Goff was already one of our region’s most influential chefs. In 1985, he opened the Dakota, as its executive chef, and by ’95 had long since been highlighted in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Gourmet, and numerous other national publications, as a leader of the Midwest dining scene.
He and a few other pioneering local chefs, like Lucia Watson of Lucia’s, and Brenda Langton of Spoonriver, laid the groundwork for our current Twin Cities dining scene. Their menus were amongst the first in Minnesota to specialize in local and seasonal foods. Goff was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying, “we don’t swim here in January, and we don’t eat strawberries then either.” Signature dishes like Brie and apple soup and turkey potpie with yam sauce formed a menu the New York Times called “familiar with a twist.”
For Goff, ideas in cooking always matter. When teaching, he quotes Escoffier’s culinary compendium, Le Guide Culinaire, like it’s scripture, and speaks to students about it as if he and Escoffier were intimate friends, telling them, “Escoffier knew cooking would change, he knew we would have to adjust.”
He built a restaurant with ideas and rules in mind at the Dakota. As the club showcased a Minnesota jazz scene, he showcased Minnesota ingredients and was quoted in the Great Chef series saying, “I want the restaurant to reflect what the people in this region like to eat. That is what regional means to me.” He established relationships with farmers and was one the first chefs here to see the benefit of our local bounty.
Thanks to people like Ken Goff, who celebrated Midwestern cuisine for its own sake, we enjoy a dining scene now recognized on a national level, garnering our state 16 James Beard cooking award nominations this year.
If you like our local dining community, then come check out a chef who helped put us on the map. When you do, tell him Jason sent you, or better yet, scoot down the hall to my class and say “hi.”
Technique gives students real world experience with paying customers. Students work in all aspects of the restaurant’s operations. They cook, wait tables, answer phones, and help develop daily menu specials. They serve a three-course meal focused on seasonal ingredients and highlight cooking technique as a way to showcase the students’ education and learned skills. The restaurant sits at the far corner of the school’s Mendota Heights campus.
1315 Mendota Heights Road, Mendota Heights
Seating from 5:30-7 p.m.