Employee Spotlights

A second serving of cooking passion



Before retiring, chef Jim Klein experienced success; after ‘unretiring,’ he encountered joy

Jim in the kitchen

Like many artists, Jim Klein wants people to enjoy his creations. He knows he has been successful not so much by the verbal compliments people share as by the smiles of pleasure etched on their faces after savoring one of his gourmet meals. It is this unspoken “thank you” that fuel’s Jim’s enthusiasm as nutrition and culinary director at Lexington Landing in Saint Paul, Minn.

Jim found his passion early in life, cooking meals as a child with his mother. That joy in creating tasty food and making people happy morphed into a real job at age 16 when Jim was hired as a prep cook at a local restaurant. His talents were further developed when, in high school, he signed up for a chef’s training program at an area vocational school.

After graduating, Jim attended the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. From there, he moved to Hot Springs, Ark., and started working as the executive sous-chef and then executive chef at the Arlington Hotel restaurant, with a Forbes Travel Guide (formerly “Mobil Guide”) four-star rating. It was in Hot Springs that Jim mastered garde-manger work, including sculpting ice, vegetable and fruit carvings.

In 1984, Jim relocated to Marina del Rey, Calif., were he served as executive chef for Marina del Rey hotels following the 1984 Olympics.

After Jim and his wife Karyn had their first child, they decided it was time to move back home to Minnesota. He then became the executive chef at the Minnesota Club until 1996. This was a role he loved and enjoyed. He later moved into food service management until his retirement in 2019, when his job was eliminated, and he felt he needed a break.

A short-lived retirement

Jim's prime rib

“I had worked a lot of long hours and holidays in ways that chefs at resorts and clubs do,” Jim observed. “Following retirement, I did a lot of things around the house. We went camping. My wife and I also have Harley Davidsons, so we did a lot of trips on those.”

Retirement proved to be short-lived, however. After enjoying the spring and summer “downtime,” Jim decided to reenter the workforce. He initially toyed with the idea of working as a driver for a local electrical company but decided against the move.

“Cooking is really my passion,” Jim reasoned. “Why leave the thing that I love doing?” So, Jim applied for the nutrition and culinary director position at Lexington Landing. The rest, as they say, is history. Jim was back doing what he loved and connecting with people in a deeply personal way.

“You get to know what people like and what they don’t,” Jim observes. “Seeing residents smile when you engage with them —even if it’s knowing to not put ice in Esther’s juice, is a huge deal.”

Jim believes the gourmet meals he prepares at Lexington Landing would please the most refined palate. “Sole filet stuffed with shrimp on a bed of parmesan creamed spinach, sauteed beef tenderloin medallions with pearl onion Merlot sauce, and parmesan cheese cups filled with baby greens, berries and goat cheese, are crowd favorites,” Jim remarks. “We also had grand openings that featured different German Bavarian foods and drinks that were a big hit.”

Jim credits his staff

Jim oversees 16 servers and cooks. At all the special holiday events, his staff gets creative. Jim credits his entire team for elevating Lexington Landing meals to be among the highest rated in Presbyterian Homes & Services communities.

“Anytime we do gourmet dinners, the next day residents say we ‘knocked it out of the park,’” Jim asserts. “I’m proud of my team. I couldn’t do it without them. You are only as good as the people around you.

“The food we serve at Lexington Landing is special because of the staff,” adds Jim. “I had a sign that said, ‘A great meal can’t save bad service, but great service can save a wrong meal.’ So, if someone doesn’t like what the special of the day is, our servers can correct it by working with the resident and going back to the kitchen to make the meal right for them. Our residents really like the personal service.”

Chef Jim with two other staff

It is not just service that makes Jim’s kitchen special, however. It’s also the teaching and training that Jim pours into his team.

“It’s important to work with the staff and to teach them new skills,” says Jim. “Whether it is teaching a new skill, or teaching a technique that will save them time … staff training is a big part of what we do, and my staff enjoy it.

“I prefer to move people — especially younger staff— around, from the cold station to the hot station so they can learn different aspects of the kitchen and not be stuck in one area,” Jim comments. “We want people to grow, and Pres Homes offers opportunities for people to move up the ladder in a number of roles.

“I’m not working seven days a week like I used to,” Jim reflects. “I work five days a week now. I have a life outside of work. Cooking is something I can do for a long time.

“When I came out of retirement, I wanted to do something that was meaningful, something I had passion for and enjoyed doing. I still work hard, but I enjoy doing it. I tell my boss, ‘I love my job.’

“Food and making people happy are what I’m about,” Jim concludes. “Cooking and teaching staff different ways of doing things bring me joy.”

Hear from Chef Jim



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