A doctor-turned-chef cooks a gourmet lakeside meal at a Minnesota winery

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Twelve years into her career as a doctor, Jo Seddon has decided she’s done with the long, exhausting hours on her feet, missing many nights with her young children.

So she traded life in a hospital for life as a chef.

“I traded a career with shitty hours and not so good pay for another career with long hours and not so high pay,” Seddon said with a laugh. “I guess the problem lies with me.”

Now seven years into his second career, Seddon is still navigating work-life balance in a demanding and physical profession. But with the new restaurant Gia at the Lake, she might be onto something.

An alfresco-only venue overlooking Lake Waconia and the peaceful Sovereign Estate vineyard, Gia at the Lake offers seasonal, farm-fresh Italian fare in a venue that only offered pizza and cheese plates. With Seddon on board, he has a cosmopolitan chef who trained at the famed River Cafe in his native London and was part of the opening team at Gavin Kaysen’s Bellecour in Wayzata.

“It’s an amazing little project,” she said of the new spot, which has her prepping everything in a commercial space in south Minneapolis and transporting it to Waconia to finish it in an outdoor kitchen. of Fortune. “We’re kind of in a camping environment here.”

With service just three nights a week, and only until early autumn, Gia at the Lake could be Seddon’s ticket to reimagining the chef’s life as family life.

Unleashed creative mind

Seddon, 42, entered medicine in her twenties, specializing in infectious diseases. (“When COVID happened, I was like, oh, thank God, I’m not a doctor right now,” she said.)

But although she loved her specialty, there was something missing. “I kept thinking I was trying so hard and applying for jobs I didn’t even want.”

She has always loved cooking and after having her second child in 2015, Seddon made the drastic choice to quit medicine and enroll at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London.

“Suddenly when I left medicine, I felt like it was releasing a part of my brain that I had suppressed,” Seddon said. “I didn’t realize I was a creative person.”

This helped Seddon land a job at the River Cafe, a seasonal Italian institution on the Thames run by women.

“It was really simple food,” she said. “Very ingredient driven. We used to write the menu twice a day. We just looked at what fit in the fridge.” The supportive environment also disproved everything she had heard about kitchen dynamics.

“It taught me that kitchens didn’t have to be like they were portrayed in all the documentaries and movies, with abusive, screaming male egos,” she said. “It taught me how a kitchen can behave and also ignited my passion for Italian cuisine.”

Seddon also completed a culinary internship at Daniel Boulud’s London restaurant, a connection that proved fatal a year later when her husband’s healthcare work brought his family to Minneapolis. Her restaurant contacts introduced her to the city’s Boulud protege, Gavin Kaysen, and Seddon landed a job as a line cook when Kaysen opened Bellecour.

Kaysen noted how Seddon’s experience working in hospitals was evident in the kitchen.

“She has an amazing way of dealing with chaos and dealing with people of all ages and maturity levels,” he said. “It made her a very quick leader in the kitchen – someone who a lot of people trusted right away. When you’re in the kitchen with her and cooking alongside her, you have the feel like she’s got your back.”

After taking a break from restaurants to have her third child, Seddon decided to make another change. She cut her hours to part-time and rented a commercial kitchen – just before the pandemic hit.

“I was already on my mind to leave the restaurants, and I was so lucky to have this space, because once everyone was off, it was impossible,” she said. .

Throughout the pandemic, she has held small private events and sold meal kits to families. “It was a successful small business,” she said. “But once things opened up, I just felt like I didn’t really want to put food in boxes anymore.”

She needed to start networking to figure out her next move, and last summer she went to an event for Dames Escoffier, a professional society for women in the restaurant and hotel industry. The event was at Sovereign Estate.

Seddon admits to having preconceived ideas about what she would experience at a Minnesota winery.

“On my way, I thought, the food will be good but the wine will suck,” she recalled. “But I got here and I was like, wait, the wine is really good.”

She found the location on the shores of Lake Waconia charming and kept coming back, wishing a restaurant would open there. Finally, she reached out to winery owner Terri Savaryn and suggested she add another dining option for winery patrons.

Savaryn agreed – and hired Seddon to direct it.

“We both understood that it was mutually beneficial,” said Savaryn, herself a chef who hosts events at the winery. “Having a culinary experience will be the best way to introduce people to the wine industry in Minnesota.”

Seddon’s vision impressed her. “Nobody else had the guts to do it,” Savaryn said. “I appreciate the courage she had.”

You can always get a cheese plate to go with the wine in a cabana or on the main patio. Musicians often play and picnic tables spread out towards the vines.

But keep walking past a grove of trees and you’ll spot the Marquette Pavilion, a graceful event space with a curved overhang. Below, between the pavilion and a field that slopes down to the lake, there are 150 seats. The lake breeze keeps the oppressive summer heat waves almost bearable.

“I just think I can come work here?” said Seddon. “At the end of the evening when we tidy up, the light and the lake, it’s just a really magical space.”

A new direction

The gradual changes of summer inspire the evolving menu. Simply grilled asparagus was a side dish in June; in July, zucchini took center stage.

The regional culinary culture of Italy also plays a role. Braised kale and white beans come from Tuscany, fried artichokes come from Rome. (Seddon took his team on a tasting tour of Italy earlier this year.)

The kids’ menu is equally thoughtful, with a starter of hummus and raw vegetables served before vibrant spaghetti and sauce.

The guideline is freshness. “It slowly changes with the seasons,” Seddon said. “The way I like to eat is the way I like to cook.”

The hardest part is preparing all the food in advance and bringing it to the cellar to finish it on the grill – “back and forth”, as Seddon calls it. She churns ice on the spot because it will melt on the long drive.

But there’s no way to predict what people will order, and “sometimes we run out,” she said. “It makes me really sad if anyone makes the effort to come here” and some dishes are not available. “It’s definitely something that keeps me awake at night.”

An outside restaurant also puts an unfortunate time limit on Gia at the lake and Seddon’s upcoming career move.

“Once the weather turns cold, it shuts us down,” she said.

Savaryn has high hopes for the future of catering at Sovereign Estate, with plans to build a permanent kitchen by next spring. “My goal would be to have a restaurant that would be Minnesota’s French Laundry,” she said, referring to the three-star Michelin restaurant in Napa Valley.

In the meantime, Seddon hopes to find space for a residence this winter. But opening a full restaurant is “such a big commitment in these uncertain times”.

And she always tries to follow her passions on her own terms.

“It’s getting to a point where I’ve worked many evening shifts in my life and maybe I didn’t want to commit to working those hours every day of the year going forward,” he said. she declared. “My children are only young for a short period of time.”

Gia at the lake

Through end of September at Sovereign Estate, 9950 N. Shore Road, Waconia, 952-207-9715, sovereignestatewine.com, joseddon.com/gia. Reservations recommended.

Events to come: Tickets are available for two more installments of a “Wine and Dine” gourmet dinner series. Dinner in Paris, August 25, 5-9 p.m., $140; Vin en Blanc, Sept. 11, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., $175.

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