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Karyn Tomlinson: from pastry
to head chef

Karyn Tomlinson

Karyn Tomlinson, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in France, and on her first day on the job was told to go to the front of house for service. While her interest was in savoury cuisine, she began working her way up through opportunities in pastry where she grew creatively. None of it discouraged her from pursuing her dream of becoming a head chef. In 2021, she opened Myriel, her first restaurant, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Can you introduce yourself?
I'm Karyn Tomlinson. I am a chef and have my own restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. I grew up in the US and experienced hospitality in my family, but I had little exposure to restaurants and never gave professional cooking a thought until I was done with University. It was only then that I started gardening and became more and more curious about how to prepare the things I was growing. I also saw how deeply satisfying it was to bring people together around a table over good food. 

What is your professional background? 
My career began with my time at Le Cordon Bleu Paris where I studied Cuisine (Intensive program). Interestingly enough, I adamantly told my instructors there that I didn't want to be a chef but rather pursue something less traditional at the time. So after I finished my program I went back to the States and worked in a test kitchen and did some private catering. I also took a job at a French-American restaurant, and that's where I realized I did indeed love the rhythms and challenges of that world. After a few years there I became a pastry chef at an up and coming restaurant and developed a deep appreciation for that part of the kitchen. Three years later in search of a new challenge, I went to Sweden to intern for the winter at Fäviken under Magnus Nillson. When I came back to the states I took a job as the Chef de Cuisine at a special little restaurant named Corner Table. While I was there I became the first solo woman to win the national whole animal butchery competition, "Grand Cochon." When Covid began I had to decide whether I wanted to open my own restaurant, and with the help of many friends and family and a supportive community I eventually did just that.

What was one of the most important things you learned while studying?
"Toujours propre" was a phrase I heard often and every day while I was in school. I learned the importance of working neatly, working efficiently, and starting with good ingredients. Many years later, I still find myself drawing upon those early lessons, and I have never stopped pursuing growth in all of those areas. If you do, you will never be excellent. 

What is your favourite memory at the institute?

I have many good memories at the institute, but I did especially love going to the market with my class one day and also stopping classes for bread, charcuterie and Beaujolais Nouveau the day it was released (not long after I started my program). 

How was your recent visit to the institute?
It was wonderful. I was thrilled to see the gorgeous rooftop garden and the whole new space in general. As much as I liked the charm of the old space, this is full of light and so conducive to learning. It made me want to get in and start cooking! It was also exciting to see so many fresh faces of people taking an important step in their journey. I'm happy to see how the school has grown.

What is your job?
I am the primary owner/operator of the restaurant. This means much of my job isn't cooking anymore! For me the cooking part is mainly focused on menu development or filling in as needed, although I am in service every night if I am able. The other part of my job is leading and developing a team, marketing and problem-solving, and working closely with the people who grow our food. I go to the farms at least once a week to pick up ingredients, discuss next season, and often do some foraging. 

Can you tell us more about your restaurant?
Myriel is a small 28-seat restaurant with a little bar. We are typically open four days a week. The restaurant is named after my favorite character in Victor Hugo's book Les Miserables, the Bishop Myriel, who receives the ex-convict and social outcast Jean Valjean into his home when he is about to have dinner. Instead of throwing him out, he sets the table with the most dignified silver settings and invites him to join. That kindness is the beginning of transformation in Valjean's life. When I first started cooking that story captured my attention and I knew I'd want to hold it close as a reminder of the power of grace and hospitality many years later when I opened a restaurant.

What do you like most about your job? 
The three most rewarding parts of my job are seeing my team thrive and develop, seeing farmers proud and motivated when their work is appreciated, and seeing guests delight in their experience of hospitality when that all comes together. If they look at a radish differently or think about who grows their food the next time they're at the store, even better. Despite all the challenges of owning a small business, having that vantage point is an incredible privilege I'm thankful for every day. 

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