JP’s Next Digs & Chicago Snags Our Baker!

Have you heard the big news? JP Samuelson, lately top toque at tapas bar Solera—and before that, chef and owner of late, lamented jP American Bistro—has landed a new plum spot. Where?

Looks to be a new Italian restaurant going into the old Ringo space in the Shops at West End in St. Louis Park.

What great news. Just fantastic. Samuelson, who also cooked for David Bouley in New York City, was the chef de cuisine at D’Amico Cucina, and opening chef at Minneapolis’ Bobino, is inarguably one of the cities’ great chefs, and to have him in charge of his own kitchen is good news for us all. I don’t know too many details yet, just that the press releases are coming next week, but I thought I’d get this ray of good news out into the wintery world as soon as possible. Look for a late-winter opening, and I’m imagining a very tasty spring.

In other big news, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned that Sheela Namakkal, the unbelievably inventive and creative baker behind last year’s bakery sensation Cake Eater, has sold her share of the business to her partner Emily Moore Harris and is leaving town for Chicago, where she has accepted a position at punk-rock cupcake specialist Bleeding Heart Bakery.

I called her up for an exit interview: So, what happened? “It was kind of a strange year,” Namakkal told me. “When I first started [making cupcakes] I was one of the few doing it, and then, just when we opened a retail space, all of a sudden everyone else opened a cupcake store too.” That’s true: Cocoa & Fig, Sweet Bakeshop, Sweet Retreat—2010 was inarguably the year of the cupcake. “And as much as we’re a big town, we’re a small town too,” Namakkal told me, “and you just can’t have that many cupcake bakeries. We were always busy, maybe too busy.” In fact Namakkal told me, through the year of getting her bakery going she kept her day job, selling shoes as a retail employee at a Grand Avenue shoe store. “I didn’t sleep. Ever. Now I’m a little burnt out,” Namakkal told me. “Well, a lot.” So when she got an offer from Chicago, which would allow her to work one job and make ends meet doing what she loved, baking, and her business partner made her an offer to allow her to take the job, she did. Sad. Minnesota will be a worse place to eat now that we won’t have Namakkal’s envelope-pushing, no-rules-allowed pastry instincts. Cake Eater will continue, though right now they’re closed till January 15 for a winter break; when they reopen, Harris has announced she plans to expand the café’s savory offerings, which will be welcome news for the Seward neighborhood.

In closing, other news: I’m still sick! All week I’ve had the worst cold. Nothing else to say. Wash your hands people, it’s a dangerous world out there.