Adam Eaton, a born-and-raised Twin Cities chef who has spent time behind the line at iconic La Belle Vie and The Strip Club, is now running one of St. Paul’s most innovative and interesting restaurants, Saint Dinette. The Tim Niver love letter to French-inspired American foods has thrived in Eaton’s (and the rest of the staff’s, of course) hands.
We sat down with Adam at Gray Duck, a downtown St. Paul restaurant just a stone’s throw from Saint Dinette, to discuss food, philosophy, and the life of a chef over Chong Qing chicken and cocktails.
What does cooking/food mean to you?
There is a lot of trust between a chef and what he creates, as Eaton describes the pleasure of food can be “as simple as an ingredient.”
“[It] feels powerful to be able to manipulate and showcase flavors.”
And, as food takes on an even bigger and more important role in Americans lives, and the Twin Cities’ dining scene controls to grow and expand as well, that power is not something to wield frivolously.
It remains important to honor and respect that trust.
Why do you cook?
“I’ve always loved cooking,” Adam says, looking at his hands. “Its a way to communicate. Its exciting and stimulating.”
In a kitchen, where the stress of a full house and the constant push to be better, faster, cheaper can perhaps take away from the simple joy of creation, perhaps the better question is, why do you still cook?
“Because I think I still love it,” he laughs. “And its all I’ve ever known. I could see myself being a deli boy my entire life.”
Which, perhaps, is the most honest statement a chef can make. But it is an exciting industry – a dynamic profession that offers something new and exciting night in and night out. Perhaps no other explanation is needed; no two dinner (or brunch, or lunch) services are ever the same, or ever will be.
Adam agrees, “It’s hard to be complacent and bored in this industry, because things are always changing and there are always challenges.”
And it’s that level of energy that makes these restaurants so much fun to visit.
Do you also cook at home?
The joy of cooking isn’t limited to one place, plate, or style. Adam describes the joys of large-scale home projects like making sausage and kombucha from scratch. With limited time away from work, however, he has also found joy in smaller, simpler meals here and there: Cooking chicken (or some sort of protein) and veggies in new and creative ways. This is also part of a plan to adopt a cleaner, healthier diet, and avoid most pasta when possible…
Though we all know that is near impossible, especially come cold weather.
Where does your inspiration come from?
French-American Saint Dinette and Adam Eaton seem a perfect fit, as food-city Montreal is one of his greatest inspirations.
- Their honest, crave-able, traditional and very playful approach on food.
- A focus on family and family-style eating
- And also a unique personality and style of cooking that hasn’t left the region.
But local talent impresses the chef as well:
- Dan Oskey: “His drive is unbelievable; from business to being creatively brilliant… the level of distillery Dan has built; the liqueurs, cremas, bitters, and spirits are all top notch and truly amazing.”
- Alex Roberts: “How he takes care of his people (employees). And his restaurants are amazingly consistent, something many restaurants have trouble achieving.”
- Tim McKee: The “…biggest culinary influence. He is bold and humble.”
Ah yes. Tim McKee. Minnesota’s first James Beard-award winner, and whose La Belle Vie (as well as plenty of other ventures) can be credited with putting the Twin Cities dining scene on the map.
What is it like working for thee Tim McKee?
What really has been left unsaid? Tim McKee has busted his hump to become a culinary and restaurant-business genius in the Twin Cities. He is someone that most cooks/chefs local and beyond look up to with high regard.
Adam has been lucky enough to work with Tim for multiple years. But working with the man is more than a business relationship; it’s personal. As Adam says, McKee “…doesn’t feel like a boss. The personal and professional life becomes very unison. Tim puts a ton of responsibility on himself, likes to take care of things and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty.”
Which is an important trait for any leader to have; though one that is often rare, especially in the kitchen.
“He loves to share, and show/teach. He doesn’t need to be the only genius in the room,” Adam says.
That, too is rare.
What does your free time entail?
Adam is a true Minnesotan: He loves being outside when he’s not running the line, placing orders, doing inventory, planning a seasonal special, and on and on. He and his fiancé, Laurel (who also runs the floor at Saint Dinette), have access to a pool in the neighborhood where they like to relax when they’re not running around with Harlow, their Dalmatian/Lab mix, at the Minnehaha Dog Park.
Once in a blue moon Adam will have some free time to attend live music. Last memorable show?
“Atmosphere @ the Xgames. That was awesome.”
And what is your favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities?
This is a loaded question, always, which is why it’s one we always like to ask. One never can tell the favorite restaurant of a top chef; a fry cook might love oysters down in oyster bay, a fine-dining master might survive solely on dive bar burgers.
For Adam? There are two local spots that come to mind:
“[Brasa] is, hands down, one of the very best places in the Twin Cities.”
We certainly wouldn’t disagree. The simple joy of comfort food (another necessity once winter winds begin to blow), should never be overlooked.
But, as there is a Brasa both in Minneapolis, and St. Paul, we have to ask as well…
Last question: Favorite side of the river (Mpls or StP), and why?
Another loaded question. Everyone has their favorite.
And, drum roll, please…
Adam’s favorite twin is the side in which he was born, raised, and has grown to love: StP.
It has a “richer history, and more of a neighborhood feel from all its character… But I also love watching the cultural diversity flourish. Like University Ave, filled with traditional ethnic food that’s a delicious culinary adventure.”
And, of course, restaurants like Saint Dinette.
Find Chef Adam Eaton at
Saint Dinette | 261 East 5th Street, St Paul, MN 55101 | (651) 800-1415
Adrian Daniel Schramm contributed to this article. Photos by Adrian Daniel Schramm.