Chef Bartold Preps the Culinary Arts Training Program at Gatherings Café

Chef Austin Bartold, a Lac Courte Oreilles tribal member, got his start in the restaurant industry washing dishes at the original Famous Dave’s in Hayward, Wisconsin at age 16. During winter, the slow season, he watched the prep line in the kitchen. “At age 17, they brought me to the line. That was where I learned multi-tasking. It was fast-paced. In the summertime, we served about 1,000 people per night. It was quite the test at 17 and 18 years old,” he told Native Business Magazine.

Fast forward, Bartold becomes the first Native American graduate of Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts in Mendota Heights. Multiple jobs and a substantial stint in the nonprofit industry later, Bartold now manages the only Native restaurant in the Minneapolis, Minnesota metro area: Gatherings Café. Here, he prepares all food from scratch with fresh, locally grown ingredients. Think roasted beet salad, tender slow braised bison and Red Lake walleye cakes.

The café is a social enterprise of the Minneapolis American Indian Center, designed to help improve the health and well-being of the Twin Cities American Indian community.

Bartold is finalizing the café’s formal Culinary Arts Training Program to groom future restaurant industry chefs and employees. While his training manual is still in the works, he runs his business like an informal indoctrination into restaurant leadership and business management.

Bartold works with student interns, who earn school credits through the University of Minnesota. They’re helping to compile his training manual. The first 9 chapters are focused entirely on food safety.

Bartold is currently facilitating round two of interns. Three new students are breaking down the nutritional value of his dishes.

“I freestyle; I don’t measure. I’ve never sat there with a teaspoon. We had to tweak a couple things. They’re going through my recipes to breakdown the nutritional factors,” he explained.

His next group of interns “will hopefully be on the fire, cooking on the stove. It’s a progression,” he said.

It will all culminate with training manuals, ready to guide and inform employee education.

Beyond running the restaurant and a catering business, Bartold volunteers to cook for diabetics at the Department of Indian Work in St. Paul.

“I grew up on a reservation with individuals who had diabetes in my family. It was always hard for me as a young kid to watch them shoot themselves with insulin and go to dialysis,” he shared with Native Business Magazine. “I think what really did it for me was when I saw one of my relatives have their leg amputated. That was really hard for me. As a young kid, I always thought, food is medicine.”

Through the Gatherings Café’s forthcoming, short-term Culinary Arts Training Program, participants will receive hands-on experience, and learn about traditional diets, indigenous foods and food sovereignty. They’ll also acquire practical food preparation skills, gain a better understanding of meal planning and learn about the business side of the food service industry.

Meanwhile, Bartold is moving forward as if the training program is already in place.

“Before anyone can exit my ‘program,’ they cook a whole meal. I tell them, ‘You’re the chef for the day. You control the kitchen. You create the menu, breakdown all the ingredients, create your food costs, and then you delegate the jobs. I’m going to be your dishwasher. If you need my help, I’ll be around. Today’s your day to shine.’”