Alexandra Motz is the pastry sous chef at the North Loop’s renowned and nationally-lauded Spoon and Stable. With that high level of pressure, and high-stakes playing at a restaurant where perfection is expected night in and night out, Motz maintains a relatively cool demeanor about it all. It’s what she wants to do, she tells us, and she wants to be the very best at what she does.
Simple? Maybe not. But certainly something special.
We sat down with Motz to learn a little more about her philosophies on food, baking, art, and everything in between. We started talking first about food (of course), and the way it’s treated in America; as food is often treated in this country as something of a necessity, we ignore the greater truths and just eat to full our stomachs.
“Food has a story and actual roots,” Alexandra say. “With culture and community embedded within. Food is more than just energy for us, (it’s) a way to bind a community.”
It’s a way to connect. We have all walks of life in this “melting pot” of a city, food is one thing we can always relate to: We all need it, after all. And some of us love eating it as well.
Alexandra explains, “I want to enjoy what I’m eating, its more of an experience… it’s not just a job or fuel.”
She is someone very passionate about her work, and is very strong at staying “present” in the moment. This, perhaps, is the secret to her perfection. Evidence? Her work (check it out in the slideshow below) is captivating and intriguing: She lives out her mantra in the most intricate, beautiful, and delicious of ways.
So where does this inspiration come from?
Alexandra strikes me as someone who has to focus her talents to be good, instead of working to squeeze out every morsel of creative juice. I’m certainly not saying she doesn’t work hard long hours and grind. I’m saying this woman has an incredibly powerful imaginative brain and knows how to express her visions in a way that most of us cannot imagine.
Her childhood plays a large role in her drive as well. There’s a certain whimsy to her work that recalls the fairy tale fun of childhood, and nostalgia plays an important role in her “mission statement” for her work: Recalling childlike wonder in an almost Alice in Wonderland way keeps her serious-focused-work ethic in check and reminds her to have fun.
You can see in the pictures of her work how the pieces are bright, colorful, playful, and yet still focused with hard lines and calculated color themes.
Alexandra gets her love of food from mother, who has always cooked meals from scratch in the kitchen. Mom is also a self-employed artist, whom Alexandra pulls rooted influences from “subconsciously,” as she says with a laugh. “It’s in my blood!”
Cook good food, eat good food, be creative and artistic all the while making sure to enjoy it all.
In the day-to-day grind of restaurant work, Alexandra is constantly trying to pull/exchange ideas/inspirations from ever day interactions with coworkers and the free-thinking people of her community. We have a similar ideal about people: You never know who you will learn something from. Whether it’s with Diane Yang, (Executive Pasty Chef of Spoon and Stable & Bellecour and one of Alexandra’s mentors), or a young, inspired pastry cook always trying something new, Alexandra stays ears-open in all directions, working to make each day better than the last.
And, of course, she is not alone behind the line.
How do you deal with the kitchen “ego”?
Coming up in the industry through culinary school, Chef Instructors impress this idea onto young cooks of a restaurant industry full of nasty attitudes, egos, and hot, filthy and horrible work environments, with an unhealthy dose of sarcasm, screaming, and intimidation that only the strongest chef can endure.
Like Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, or Anthony Bourdains’ Kitchen Confidential, perhaps.
Not all of this is true. Sure, some days are tough, and in some places there are “Devils in the Kitchen,” but for the most part its a facade that’s been kept alive by stories and influence. And it doesn’t have to be that way: It’s all a state of mind or a culture, so to speak, and it’s up to this new generation of chefs to change it.
But with high profile chefs, there is a sense of perfection and cutthroat attitude that remains prevalent and can be tough to work with.
Alexandra, though, doesn’t seem to notice it or let it effect her negatively. As she says, “I’m usually too focused to notice much of it. I didn’t really realize it was a thing- that’s a good thing.”
In the kitchens where she’s worked, there hasn’t been a lot of that notorious “kitchen attitude” between cooks and coworkers (which surprises me, as its such a high-volume, high-stature, “hot” restaurant at which she works). She says she is working in an environment that is open to learning from each other and always feels very symbiotic.
Does positivity breed success? We’d like to think so.
Do you cook at home?
The Millennial generation is inquisitive, creative, hardworking, and, importantly, we want to know where our food comes from. Alexandra is a vegetarian who knows that some of her finest food isn’t going to be made in the kitchen of the restaurant; she loves cooking fresh, local produce in her kitchen at home as well.
“I love going to the farmer’s market,” she tells me with obvious passion.
When talking about food being an experience, you can certainly see it here. She bikes to the farmer’s market, either Lyndale or Mill City, interacts with local producers, farmers, movers and shakers, and buys food with a connection to our city and state, from the people who make it great.
What’s next? Takes it home and cook from raw, of course. Nothing taste better. Though she does like to pickle things and make a shrub or two for a home made cocktail as well.
Ans, speaking of cocktails…
What is your favorite local brewery/distillery?
Alexandra’s favorite breweries include Lakes & Legends Brewing Company, because they “think like local cooks, trying to showcase ingredients when they are in the height of season/at their prime ripeness/best flavor,” and Fair State Brewing Cooperative where she enjoys the sour beers and the ESP. And while she doesn’t get out to distilleries much because of their odd hours, she does make herself a rhubarb shrub with ingredients from farmers market (as mentioned above) and enjoys a cocktail at home after a long week of work.
Here is what she’s been enjoying lately: Local Gin + rhubarb shrub + soda + spruce tips
What does your free time entail?
Alexandra is an Uptown gal. She likes to ride her bike, hang around the lakes, enjoy some of the local arts, and always has to get coffee at Caffetto, Spyhouse on Hennepin, or Matchbox Coffee in NE, when she’s out and about.
When she’s not working 60+ hours a week, this creative mind is also an active painter, pushing herself to stay involved and participating in at least 2 art shows a year. The same keen eye that lends itself to such stunning cakes, pastries, and other sweet treats, translates into equally stunning works of art. You can see a lot of Alexandra in these paintings, from food inspiration to her biking lifestyle. Lots of texture, composition and eye-catching detail.
Remember when we were talking about perfection? Take a look at this local artist’s joy:
It’s also important to take time apart from these sorts of intensive projects, even with limited time. Bike rides home from work help her to decompress and contemplate tomorrow’s challenge, and how to handle it properly.
“I think about how I did that day at work and how I can improve for tomorrow,” she says.
I think we could all benefit from a little of that.
What is your favorite restaurant?
This question had a very small pause in between question and answer.
Then she says, “Quang’s.”
It’s always interesting to me at what chefs like to eat. Many chefs enjoy the simplest fare, and will only go out to a high-caliber restaurant a couple times a year (even as, or maybe because, they spend 50-60 hours a week at a high-caliber restaurant).
Quang’s in MPLS has one of the best Vietnamese menus around town. They have a killer vegetarian pho recipe, along with about 100 other items that are always done right, always delicious. It’s a small, no frills kind of place, but with so much flavor and no BS.
Goals for the future?
Positivity and growth is what Alexandra is all about: Staying focused on building relationships with people that work for and above her is extremely important.
Many chefs also like to travel, and Alexandra is no exception. Site-seeing, adventuring and eating our way through the world to experience everything we don’t have here, and some of what we do but with a different perspective. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. She’d like to travel with or for food in the future.
Any side projects currently in the works?
As the restaurant takes up much of her time, and she spends much of the rest on her art and tries to squeeze in a few hours of leisure here and there, there isn’t much time for side projects. She sometimes will find herself working on a couple wedding cakes here, her gallery shows twice a year, and commissioned art pieces that show up all across the city.
Yeah, you might say that.
Favorite side of the river (MPLS or StP) and why?
“Def MPLS,” she answers without missing a beat. “I’m not done having fun in MPLS. There are a lot of businesses I want to support, and people I want to socialize with.”
This woman lives, breathes and synchronizes with the heartbeat of the city. She’s a big part of our food scene and is stickin’ with it. Whether it’s creating or consuming, immersing herself in the diverse culture and vast landscape of Minnesota or staying home to try something new in the kitchen, her passion and POV encompass exactly what makes Minneapolis such a special place to live.