After more than two years of working as sous chef in the fast-paced kitchen of Figlio in uptown Minneapolis, Jason Schellin says he’s looking forward to cooking in the smaller, “made to order” environment at Muffuletta, 2260 Como Ave.
Schellin crossed the river in January to replace chef J.D. Fratzke, who left to start a new restaurant on St. Paul’s East Side. When Fratzke’s name comes up, Schellin simply says, “big shoes.” He’s confident, however, that he can fill them.
“I’m young, ambitious and full of energy,” he says. “With that in mind, what could come out of the kitchen is endless.”
Like Fratzke, Muffuletta’s new chef plans to focus on fresh, locally grown vegetables and meats.
“That’s exactly where I’m at,” he says. “The core menu will stay as when J.D. was here.”
There are some items on the menu of this 30-year-old restaurant that do not change. The beer cheese soup, for example, won’t go, Schellin says, and the restaurant will continue with its globe-trotting monthly themes.
“The overall concept of Muffuletta is not going to change at all,” Schellin says, “although the influences may.”
For Schellin, those influences are French. “I am into French because they are very talented and ingenious in the way they cook,” he says. “The French, they go everywhere. They take what some think are unusable meats and create something wonderful.
“I personally like foods braised, almost crock-potish,” he says. “I like slow French foods, long-roasted meats, fork tender. I am very into potatoes made any way. I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy.”
Schellin says he likes to make food that’s prepared “simply and correctly,” and he thinks the clientele at Muffuletta wants to see that kind of cooking reflected on the menu.
Though Schellin professes to be enamored with French culinary arts, he says you won’t see what he describes as “froo-froo weird foie-gras-stuffed-oysters-type food,” on his menu.
Schellin joined Parasole — which owns Muffuletta as well as Manny’s Steakhouse, Chino Latino and Salut — in October 2005. That was after spending three years at Bobino Café and Wine Bar in northeast Minneapolis, where he was the executive chef for two of those years.
Before Bobino he attended the culinary school at Art Institutes International Minnesota in Minneapolis and worked at Tiburon, a now-defunct restaurant in downtown Minneapolis.
Growing up in Brainerd, 29-year-old Schellin got his start in the restaurant business as a dishwasher at Madden’s on Gull Lake near his hometown. He worked his way up to sous chef over seven years.
Cooking at such a large resort meant sometimes cooking 50 prime rib dinners at one time. “I learned at an early age the buffets and banquets and got all that out of the way,” he says.
He’s excited about working in a smaller kitchen. “Figlio is fast paced,” he says. “That place will do a thousand covers on any given night. I’m going back to where I wanted to be. I want to get back to creating food on a daily basis.”
Schellin was a wrestler in high school, which meant he was constantly trying to maintain his weight and watch his food intake.
“Once I decided not to go to college as a wrestler, the idea of working as a chef carried me away,” he says.
So now that he isn’t obsessed with weighing in at the gym anymore, what’s his favorite meal?
“Some kind of braised beef short rib, a mashed potato — very creamy, buttery, rich potato — and a simple veal reduction. I would probably eat that every day if I could.”
Will that find its way onto the Muffuletta menu?
“We’ll be experimenting with short ribs,” he promises.