« November 2009 Table of Contents
Behind the Line: Filling a void
Sea Change brings sustainable fish to the Twin Cities
By Lauren Kramer
November 01, 2009
As a successful chef and restaurateur in the Minneapolis
area, Tim McKee found it odd that although there was a strong
focus on using products from sustainable, local farms in Twin
Cities restaurants, the sustainability of seafood was largely
ignored. He opened Sea Change Restaurant in the city's Guthrie
Theatre in July to address this shortcoming, promising
exclusively sustainable seafood on a menu that also includes
"Until now, there hasn't been any emphasis on where our
seafood is coming from. I really wanted to bring that to
people's consciousness," McKee says. Sea Change is the only
restaurant in the city offering only sustain-
"Some of it is Marine Stewardship Council-certified, but for
all of it, we've gone to great lengths to ensure that the
people we buy from are obtaining their seafood in a sustainable
manner," he says. "And we're getting a very favorable response
from diners for whom sustainable sourcing is meaningful and
The menu contains information on how product is sourced, and
the restaurant staff is armed with more detailed knowledge on
sustainability so they can relay it to guests.
"There's also a blackboard updated daily that explains the
variety of seafood that we have and what boat or farm it's
coming from," says McKee.
The Sea Change menu includes halibut, cod, Arctic char,
California sturgeon, sea urchin, rock shrimp, oysters and
clams. Price points range from $7 to $25, which is not much
higher than seafood served at other area restaurants, he
A starter of grilled octopus with salsa verde, Spanish
peppers and pimento costs $11, while a half-dozen half shell
oysters with assorted sauces from the raw bar cost $15. A clam
croquette appetizer with tarragon and piri-piri is $7, and the
most expensive seafood entrée is striped bass with oxtail,
eggplant, red miso and potato, at $25.
It can be difficult sourcing sustainable seafood smack in t
he middle of America, McKee says.
"It is dependent on having really good relationships with
our vendors, Coastal Seafoods and The Fish Guys," he says.
"Our frustration is that we have to rely on different
shipping methods to source our product. But we're trying to do
what we can because I'm very committed to the idea of
sustainable seafood, which means buying from fisheries that are
dedicated to making sure fish populations are
It's not just the seafood that's sustainably sourced at Sea
Change. Instead of offering diners bottled water the restaurant
has a filtration system and filters its own. The restaurant
tables are made from reclaimed redwood trees that were felled
in a 2002 winter storm in California. McKee is also in the
establishing a compost system at the
Looking at all of the elements that fall under McKee's
direction, it's hard to believe the Twin Cities restaurateur
didn't begin his professional career in the food industry.
McKee trained in the field, working as a line cook in 1988 to
pay his way through college, where he was studying anthropology
and geology. By 1990, he was working in the fine-dining French
Mediterranean restaurant Azure in the Twin Cities, when the
penny dropped and he knew his college job would become his
"What we were doing at Azure was really interesting to me,"
he says. "In terms of cuisine and technique, I was doing things
I'd never seen before."
The hands-on learning seems to have paid off. McKee won this
year's James Beard Best Chef Midwest award. In addition to Sea
Change, McKee also owns the French Mediterranean fine-dining
restaurant Solera, Smalley's Caribbean barbecue and two Barrio
tequila bars, all in the Twin Cities.
Despite the economic recession, business at Sea Change has
been brisk over the past couple of months, McKee says. "We
opened the restaurant during the recession, so it's been a
reality for us from day one," he says. "Still, the restaurant
has been busy and for the most part, I think it's because we're
doing something no one else is doing."
Sea Change's location, in the Guthrie Theatre, is another
huge, regional draw, he says. "But a lot of people are coming
because of our concept, and also because I'm a well-recognized
chef in the area, and people want to see my new
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British