Opening a restaurant is no easy feat. But for this experienced hospitality duo, restaurant openings, concept creating and working through the kinks of everyday restaurant life is old hat. Enter Kim Bartmann, one of Minnesota’s most recognized female restaurateurs and owner of 10 Twin Cities restaurants, and chef Asher Miller, a hospitality mastermind with over 17 years of restaurant experience. With their combined 43 years of restaurant know-how, I can only bet the duo’s new restaurant concept, Book Club, will become a staple for local diners.
I met Miller well over a decade ago when he was the executive chef for Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, 20.21, in the Walker Art Museum. He was kind and elegant, knowledgeable and confident, yet humble and extremely hospitable. His grace not only made him an expert behind the line, but he became the face for this popular downtown destination. He graciously moved with ease, welcoming guests into 20.21 while creating some of my favorite food on the Twin Cities food scene at the time.
Miller, born in New Hampshire, moved to Minnesota in 1998 to attend a small Twin Cities liberal arts college. But by 2000 he realized the culinary industry was where his heart was after working for a handful of Twin Cities restaurants about town, including one of Bartmann’s first establishments, Barbette. By 2001, Miller was a graduate of the Culinary School at The Art Institute’s International Minnesota in Minneapolis. Pursuing his love for the industry, he continued to work in the Twin Cities food scene until his first big break took him from Minneapolis to a national position, mentored by one of the country’s most recognized culinary professionals, Wolfgang Puck. In 2004, Miller became 20.21’s first hire as the restaurant’s sous chef/purchasing manager. He quickly moved his way through the ranks, making him the establishment’s executive chef a year later until its closing in 2011. Beyond his position with the restaurant, Miller also worked with Puck and his team across the country opening numerous restaurants and performing catering appearances from Washington, D.C to Chicago, Dallas, Seattle and beyond. When I asked what his biggest take-away was from working with Wolfgang and his team he simply says, “Standards. Holding yourself to a level of cleanliness, not re-using things and making sure that everything was fresh and proper (within the culinary environment).” He admits his time inside Puck’s world was a one-of-a-kind experience—fun and educational.
After the closing of 20.21, Miller moved on to take a two-year position with Chicago-based corporate restaurant group, Lettuce Entertain You. He says his local position as chef for Mall of America’s (M.O.A.) Italian themed restaurant, Tucci Benucchi, taught him the significance of systems. How to properly and systematically run a business gave him tremendous business insight. An experience Miller says was invaluable, giving him the opportunity to run a large scale restaurant.
During his time managing one of M.O.A.’s larger eateries, Miller’s entrepreneurial spirit drove him to start his own business, Asher Miller Catering. In 2012, he left Lettuce Entertain You to pursue Asher Miller Catering full time. Shortly afterward, Asher Miller Catering would be put on the back burner when he received a call from local culinary celebrity, Andrew Zimmern. He would take a full-time position with Zimmern’s team working for A.Z. Canteen, operating its growing food truck scene across the country. The concept of A.Z. Canteen quickly morphed beyond the world of food trucks when the business had an opportunity to pop up in sports venues. The venture’s first sites included Minneapolis’s own, Target Field. Working with the A.Z. group would again take Miller beyond Minneapolis as he continued to work with Zimmern to open other sports venue restaurants across the country. He says his time with Zimmern truly taught him the value of “what good food really is”—another lesson driving Miller’s passion toward eventually owning his own restaurant.
Author’s favorite Book Club pairing: Whole Fried Trout Nuoc cham, lettuce cups, lemongrass pickles, brown jasmine rice and Hacker Pschorr Münchner Gold
After his stint with A.Z. Canteen, Miller took a two-year hiatus from working on the corporate scene and refocused his energy on Asher Miller Catering, gathering resources in the hopes of opening his own establishment. Bartmann and Miller remained friends for years after his time behind the line at Barbette. So after sharing his longtime restaurant dream with Bartmann, the two decided to partner. The result is the birth of south Minneapolis’ restaurant, Book Club, which opened in November.
In regard to the name Book Club, while the two began to concept for the restaurant, Bartmann found an archived article that discussed three cookbooks that changed the direction of modern cookery. One of the cookbooks was written in the 1950s. It’s a collection of the best recipes the book’s author compiled from various settlers from the mid 1800s up to her current period as well as various restaurants. The cuisine, as Miller explains it, was loosely defined. From Chinese to Italian, the cookbook offered recipes that brought life to the history of California’s food scene. Because of Bartmann and Miller’s love for these cookbooks, the name Book Club stuck. Miller, inspired by that cookbook’s California themed cuisine, developed a menu for Book Club’s restaurant offering a wide variety of delicious international fare. The vibe is “clean and simple,” Miller says. “We want to create a repeatable experience.”
These days, Miller can be seen at both the front and back of the house. He’s the first person you see when you enter this brightly lit neighborhood gem. When I say to him, “It’s so weird to see you without a chef’s coat on,” he grins from ear to ear. That’s when I realize this was his destiny after all. My dear friend, who so proudly stands in this gorgeously designed restaurant, is in his element. If you have ever had the opportunity to taste Miller’s recipes, you’ll be happy to know while this talented chef is loving life at front of the house, you can still taste the magic of Miller’s palate across the menu. So, when you ask me, “Where’s the hottest restaurant to visit right now?” I will definitely tell you, Book Club. As the restaurant’s motto states: Good Food. True Story. There is certainly something on the menu for everyone. From date night to a night out with the family, Book Club is where you’ll want to dine out any night of the week.