10 Questions: Jim Severson

Categories: Ten Questions
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Before he opened Sevy's Grill back in 1997, Severson had already piled up 23 years of food service experience...probably not counting his time at McDonald's as a teenager.

The Michigan native studied at the famous Culinary Institute of America and worked several kitchens before earning a local following as chef at Dakota's. Aside from Sevy's--now a kind of institution--he's known as a founder of the Farmer's Market cooking class series.

Severson, however, gives a lot of credit for all this success to chef Michael "Buzzy" Zeve, who shares cooking chores at the restaurant. But their 14 years of professional partnership would be over in a second if Zeve ever prepares a certain side dish...

1. How does a restaurant manage to stick around as long as yours?
Two reasons. One, we have ownership on premises each and every day. This allows for better decision-making because owners have a stake in it. Second, working with our guests. We get a lot of special requests--they don't like a certain spice, or they have dietary requirements. I know some chefs don't like to make changes, but we want guests to come back.

2. Are lunch and dinner crowds very different?
No, not really. We have a strong business lunch crowd and those guests go out three or four nights a week. They know what quality is. They know what they're looking for.

3. Which shift do you prefer?
They challenge you in different ways. One is how fast can you do good food, the other is how well do you cook food on a consistent basis. Dinner is a longer process, of course, but there's also more experimentation.

4. Does it help having Buzzy around?
Absolutely. He's a godsend. To have a culinary partner with the same level of passion is great. It allows me to do charity functions and leave the restaurant without worrying.

5. Which is more important: location or that second chef?
I've always been told it's location, location, location. But they told us our location was a B-. So really, they almost go hand in hand.

6. Think any of those TV chefs are juicing up to help them slice faster?
I tell you, I love watching those shows, but I know there's a sacrifice they make to get there--whether it's giving up what they want to cook or not having time to themselves. You pay a little to the devil, a little of your soul, for the exposure.

7. Ever wanted a show of your own?
You know, people say I would be decent at something like that. But I feel like I'm on a show every day. I like my smaller stage.

8. When you get a chance to eat out, do you have a favorite food?
Hmm...Mexican. I love Luna de Noche. I like the flavors and the spices.

9. Anything you can't stand?
Lima beans. I had a not very good experience with Lima beans as a kid. I've never gotten over that.

10. So if Buzzy tried to serve Lima beans to you, would you can him or just cut his salary?
Let's just say he'd be working for Lima beans. In very small portions.


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