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Hangin’ With Klecko: Meet David Fhima, the Chef

Over the years I have taken pride in my ability to capture a story and tell it in less than 1200 words. However, after leaving my last interview I realized it would be impossible. I was overwhelmed by the excess of inspiring data that David Fhima gave me, so submitted for your approval, this month I will be interviewing Fhima the chef, and next month I will follow up with Fhima the baker.

After hugs, after espresso, Fhima brought me into his kitchen and sat me down at his chef’s table…

Klecko: David, I’m really excited to be here, let’s get started. Tell me something about this restaurant that most people don’t know.

Fhima: Thank you, Daniel, for taking the time to visit. Many people don’t know that this space is haunted. Think about it, this space is over 100 years old. Sometimes when I am here, alone in the morning, I sense the spirit of the people who have come here, before me. Many of these people were better than us, and call me out, demanding that I give my best.

Klecko: I’m at the point where I’m starting to wonder who will eventually take our places in this industry. Do you follow the next wave, who’s the man or woman who has what it takes to splash hard?

Fhima: Daniel, that is such a relevant question. To be honest, I have been so busy here, I am embarrassed to say, I don’t know. I’ve been telling myself that in 2020, I need to make it a point to find time to visit our talented colleagues. As you know I have worked in some big cities, and I believe the Twin Cities have the talent to compete nationally. We just don’t have as big of a platform. If we did, this would be a different conversation.

Klecko: I realize that you also are connected with the Timberwolves. If for whatever reason you had to leave them and work for another sports franchise, who would that be?

Fhima: (Without hesitation) I’d choose the Lakers. When I first came to the United States, my first city I worked in was Los Angeles. You need to remember this was during the ‘80s when everything was drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll.

I really have enjoyed my experience with the Wolves, but I also have great memories cooking for Magic Johnson and Jack Nicholson. This was before the Staple Center, I was at the Great Western Forum.

Klecko: Like you, I entered the USA through the City of Angels. I was born in L.A.

Fhima: Which neighborhood?

Klecko: Inglewood.

Fhima: (Smiling) Daniel, just one more thing we have in common.

Klecko: Several months ago I was writing up Steve Smith and Jimmy Kohler over at Luci Ancora. At some point in our discussion they asked how you managed to receive so much media attention. What’s your secret?

Fhima: First off, you don’t try. I’ve never solicited an interview in my life. You know that. I don’t need to market because I don’t lie. Chefs don’t need to be afraid to tell the truth. One blessing I received was that I inherited storytelling from my father.

You can be the best cook in town, but if you can’t tell your story, nobody cares. Part of my job is to tell the story of my employees, craft, family and myself. In that order.

I’ve learned its pointless being afraid. Who’s put more money into this town than I have? Who’s had more closings than me? If I sneeze, the whole city gets a cold. I’m ok with the consequences, because it’s all about perspective. 

Klecko: On my way over, it occurred to me that you have quarterbacked destination concepts in both Minneapolis and St Paul. Is there a difference between working in these two cities?

Fhima: Pausing, and pausing some more) The difference is huge. As you know I’ve opened more restaurants in St. Paul. The thing I like about St. Paul is it has a different charm, it’s more European. I really believe I will work there again one day, but I must be honest, St. Paul broke my heart. And that’s on me, I didn’t understand its food scene. Minneapolis moves with quick energy, but St. Paul is less forgiving.

Klecko: But you’ll go on the record saying that you would be open to returning to the Capital city?

Fhima: Yes, I would, but you’ve had your heart broken, Daniel, you know what it takes. What steps you have to consider before the possibility of returning.

Klecko: When my career got torpedoed a couple years back, I remember, there was a period, when I realized that my current circumstance was over. That period was brief, like maybe 12 hours where nobody else knew, so I wanted to make sure I used this time to evaluate how to proceed, and the first thing that popped up in my head was that I wanted to move forward with Fhima-like dignity. Your strength was very comforting to me in a moment that wasn’t very comfortable. 

Fhima: It is hard to be in a place in your mind where nobody is within miles. I have worked very hard and lost money doing this at times. But now that I’ve grown wiser, those failures are beyond valuable because they have given me perspective. I need to be inspired. We all need validation and peace. We should never get a big head, or angry by how we are perceived. When people criticize, this is the best time to be true to yourself. How do I understand what I can’t at the moment? I take ownership. Once you do this, everything is easier to deal with.

It’s very important that perfectionists learn to cut themselves some slack, take a deep breath and figure out what to do next. When things came to the most difficult point in my career, I decided to go to bed one hour later, and get up one hour earlier. 

Each one of us can choose not to let mistakes define us, mine have made me stronger, and you are figuring this out too Daniel, this makes me happy for you.

You know, when things got tough in my life, when people kicked me off my pedestal, my family and friends built me a bigger one, and that made me untouchable.

Well, Friends, that concludes this month’s installment. I hope you revisit us next month as we talk to Fhima the Baker. 

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