Winners in 13 categories were announced Sunday afternoon at the third-annual Charlie Awards. The awards, which celebrate the Twin Cities food and drink community (and are named for the late, great Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale, pictured above), were held at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.
Lucia Watson (pictured, above), the force behind 28-year-old Lucia's Restaurant and the adjacent Lucia's Wine Bar and Lucia's To Go, was handed the Lifetime Achievement award.
Butcher & the Boar (pictured above, with chef/co-owner Jack Riebel, left) was named Outstanding Restaurant.
The Emerging Food Professional award went to Tyler Shipton, co/chef-co/owner of Borough.
Diane Yang of La Belle Vie was named Outstanding Pastry Chef. La Belle Vie also won top honors in the Outstanding Restaurant Service category.
St. Paul's sole Charlie went to the Strip Club, with Dan Oskey winning the Outstanding Bartender honor.
Birchwood Cafe owner Tracy Singleton (pictured, above, with daughter Lily Singleton-Hill) walked away with two honors: the Community Hero and Outstanding Neighbor awards.
Three food and drink items were placed in the klieg lights: Newcomer Hot Indian Foods won the year's Outstanding Food Truck Item with its Indi Frites. Lift Bridge Brewing Co.'s Hop Dish IPA won the Outstanding Local Craft Brew award and Corner Table won Outstanding Menu Item with chef Thomas Boemer's version of crispy pork belly.
Awards for individuals and businesses are determined by a vote of all participating Charlie Awards restaurants. Food and beverage awards are determined by an online public vote and a panel of experts.
After last week’s embarrassment of a cream cheese challenge (I actually skipped over the bagels on my grocery list in protest), this week’s Top Chef rebounds nicely (mostly) from that ill-conceived advertorial to deliver a pair of challenges that actually had something to do with this year’s host city. A jazz-themed challenge was an inevitability for this New Orleans season, but it’s certainly not unwelcome, especially when you throw jazz great Kermit Ruffins into the mix.
This week’s Quickfire Challenge was so fun to watch unfold that I barely noticed how utterly flawed it was in concept until the winner was announced. Basically the challenge is musical chairs with chef stations instead of chairs and knives and loose electrical wires instead of sanity and sound decision-making. The concept is that - like jazz musicians - chefs should be able to improvise on the spot, which is why each chef ends up changing food stations four times, searching for dish continuity along the way. It’s fun watching chefs wander around to the sound of trumpet music (Sara did a jaunty dance!), most likely while pondering why so many jazz musicians are named Kermit, but ultimately this challenge just isn’t fair. Justin (who’s slowly turning into this season’s resident grouch) starts out nicely at the quail and flounder station but later gets stuck at the finishing point with tofu, a microwave and Patty’s lame attempt at couscous. There’s really no justice here.
Sara gets royally screwed here as Brian ends up winning the challenge and immunity for the Asian-inspired duck and mussels dish that Sara worked on for half of the four rotations. Brian is rightfully excited, but also a little embarrassed, as his self-admitted contribution to the dish was mainly centered on the plating. Earlier, Brian avoided making a big move by sautéing vegetables instead of dealing with frog legs, a dish Louis unfortunately got saddled with. Sara’s good-natured about not scoring a win on what’s essentially her dish, but I’m less even-tempered as I think Sara’s confidence really needs a boost at this stage. She serves a trout dish that was initially Carrie’s. It goes over well. Luckily, Sara is never at risk of needing immunity in this week’s big challenge, but Brian's win still stings.
Speaking of, the Elimination Challenge this week is also jazz-themed as the chefs are asked to work in groups (under the thin veil of jazz quartets or something) to make food for Kermit’s potluck. Puerto Rican chef Patty has never heard of potlucks before, but Midwestern girls Sara and Carrie (an Iowan native, if you need a refresher) have a much better grip on the concept, but still don’t exactly want to put their best ambrosia salad or tater tot hot dish recipes forward.
The groups get to pick their teams (or “bands,” as Tom Colicchio was forced by producers to say) and Sara picks a pretty solid one in Shirley, Justin and the momentum-gaining Louis on Team Blue. Less together are Team Gray, who are not only saddled with the immune Brian and iffy Patty and Travis, but also Nicholas, who had to sit out the Quickfire due to a possible case of strep throat. He’s back before he’s forced out of the competition, but not before doing his entire ingredient shopping via Travis and a cell phone.
Despite the paradoxical nature of the challenge (is a catered potluck really a potluck?), there’s a lot of fun to be had in watching jazz musicians (A Marsalis! A Neville! That guy Steve Zahn essentially plays on Treme!) shoot the breeze and eat the most uniformly good food the show’s had in weeks.
Sara’s team plays it smart by aiming at the local crowd with food that’s both comforting and indulgent, including grits, okra and beef. The teams ends up in the middle, with most of the praise falling on Louis’ grilled and pickled vegetables with sunflower seeds and mustard vinaigrette. Justin scores some love for his super-buttery grits, but also gets nailed for not having enough as much seasoning as the locals are used to. Sara splits her work with her BFF Shirley on a glazed beef with charred onions, melon pickles and a pickled ginger vinaigrette. At judge’s table, it’s called a bit dry, but all the scenes of the diners eating it appear to be positive. All in all, not a bad week for Sara, especially since I’ve rewritten that Quickfire in my head to be in her favor. Her makeup process continues to stun me.
The Green Team wins with their Italian-style dishes. Nina gets kudos for her gnocchi despite making gnocchi three times already, which is frankly kind of irritating. Carrie went weird with a nectarine, pistachio and goat cheese tiramisu that involved microwaved sponge cakes in a way that I still don’t understand. It’s beautiful, but not a resounding success. Instead, the winner is Stephanie, who surprised the judges with a nice fried artichoke dish with preserved lemons and anchovy aioli. Stephanie says she hasn’t won anything since “Most Improved” in high school basketball and I continue to love everything about her.
The losers are the gray team, who underwhelm despite Brian’s stellar fried chicken. Nicholas (who did most of the prep work, drawing a good-natured accusation of performance enhancing drug use from Stephanie) fizzles with a bland and unevenly prepared barramundi fricassee, while Travis gets knocked a few rungs down the ladder for putting too much rub on otherwise well-prepared caramel-glazed BBQ ribs. That means Patty finally goes home for another indifferently prepared dish. Her tomato watermelon salad (so much watermelon this season! Can this be the end, please?) is called bland by the judges, who also note that it really needed a savory element added somewhere along the way of its uninspired genesis. Patty was canon fodder since week one, but her hair was always very lovely.
Next week Sara appears to draw the ire of Louis during a horrific-looking pig butchery challenge. I’m concerned.
Minnesota did not send the largest number of competitors to the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off, held earlier this week in Las Vegas. That distinction is held by two states -- Texas and Pennsylvania, with 10 cooks each.
Among the Bake-Off's 100 finalists were four Minnesotans (the million-dollar winner was Glori Spriggs of Henderson, Nev., for her Loaded Potato Pinwheels). Here are their recipes:
ON THE GO BREAKFAST COOKIES
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
Note: From Beverly Batty of Forest Lake.
1 package Pillsbury Big Deluxe refrigerated oatmeal raisin cookies
1/2 c. Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Coconut Pecan Frosting
1/2 c. quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1/4 c. flaxseed
1 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped '
2 tbsp. sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Let cookie dough stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, combine cookie dough, frosting, oats, flaxseed, walnuts, cranberries and coconut and mix until thoroughly combined.Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake until edges are light golden brown, about 12 to 16 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
MINI ITALIAN SHEPHERD'S PIES
Makes 36 appetizers.
Note: From Sonya Goergen of Moorhead.
1 box (9 oz) Green Giant® frozen chopped spinach, divided
1 lb, extra lean (at least 90%) ground beef
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1 c. marinara sauce
1 box Pillsbury® refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
1 package (24 oz) refrigerated mashed potatoes (about 2 1/2 c.)
2/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 36 mini-muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray. In a microwave oven, cook frozen spinach to thaw, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from oven and squeeze spinach dry with paper towels. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, brown ground beef, breaking up large pieces, until meat is no longer pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in onion and cook 3 to 4 minutes until tender. Drain pan of oil. Stir in marinara sauce and half of the spinach.
Meanwhile, unroll pie crusts. Using 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter, cut 18 rounds from each crust, rerolling dough if necessary. Press each round in bottom and up side of muffin cups. Spoon rounded tablespoon meat mixture in each cup.
In a microwave oven, cook mashed potatoes as directed on package, about 2 to 3 minutes. In a medium bowl, mix potatoes, remaining spinach, cheese, salt and pepper until well blended. Top each cup with a rounded tablespoon of potato mixture. Bake until potatoes are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cups to loosen pies. Serve warm.
SEEDS AND CHOCOLATE PASTRY WEDGES
Note: From Vicki Mager of Bloomington.
1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
2 1/4 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/3 c. dried currants
1/4 c. roasted unsalted sunflower nuts
1/4 c. roasted salted hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/4 c. Jif Chocolate Flavored Hazelnut Spread
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Unroll pie crust on an ungreased baking sheet. Pinch outside edge of crust to form a 1/4-inch rim. Prick dough several times with fork. In small bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over crust. In medium bowl, mix currants, sunflowers nuts and pumpkin seeds. Sprinkle mixture over crust. Press mixture firmly into crust. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and bake until edges are light golden brown, about 3 to 6 minutes longer. Remove from oven and immediately cut into 12 wedges. Do not separate wedges. Spoon chocolate hazelnut spread into decorating bag or 1-quart resealable food storage plastic bag; seal bag. Cut off tiny corner of bag; squeeze bag to drizzle spread over seeds. Cool completely.
ORANGE CARDAMOM BLUEBERRY CROSTATA
Note: From Cathy Wiechert of Mound.
1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
1/2 c. Smucker's Orchard's Finest Pacific Grove Orange Marmalade Medley
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
2 c. fresh blueberries
1 egg yolk
1 to 2 tbsp. coarse white sparkling sugar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a 15x-10-inch baking pan with sides with parchment paper. Unroll pie crust in prepared pan. In medium bowl, mix preserves, flour and cardamom. Carefully fold in blueberries. Spoon mixture over crust to within 2 inches of edge. Fold edge of crust over filling, pleating crust as necessary. In small bowl, beat egg yolk with two teaspoons water. Lightly brush crust edge with egg mixture; sprinkle with sugar. Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly, 17 to 23 minutes. Remove from oven and cool at least 30 minutes before serving.
The 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off takes place on Monday in Las Vegas (for the first time in the contest's 64-year history), and four Minnesotans are among the 100 finalists.
This year's Bake-Off finds competitors in three recipe divisions: Amazing Doable Dinners, Simple Sweets and Starters and Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts.Recipes must have seven ingredients or less and require 30 minutes or less in preparation time.
There's plenty on the line: $1 million to the grand-prize winner. From there, the drop-off is steep: $10,000 for second place, along with $5,000 for third place and four $5,000 special award winners. (Doughboy image, above, courtesy of Pillsbury).
The four Minnesotans are:
Beverly Batty of Forest Lake, preparing On the Go Breakfast Cookies (which calls for Pillsbury refrigerated oatmeal raisin cookies and Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Coconut Pecan Frosting).
Vicki Mager of Bloomington, preparing Seeds and Chocolate Pastry Wedges (which features Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts).
Do you have a favorite Bake-Off recipe? Mine is Peanut Blossom cookies, from the 1957 Bake-Off.
Man alive, those Bravo editors can just be cruel sometimes. Having finally whittled the number of contestants down to one that the producers can actually juggle, this episode of Top Chef immediately gets to work sketching in some of the character beats that we’ve been sorely missing so far. Although we actually get to learn a lot (lovable Carlos gained the majority of his cooking skills working for free in kitchens after he crossed over from Mexico, Nina is besties with Travis and Bene, Sara has a cute boyfriend), what most sticks out about these scenes is just how much this show expertly avoids playing into audience expectations of how episodic narrative arcs for reality contestants should normally operate.
Of course the show can’t resist the nice obvious symmetry of Nina’s best bud, Bene, leaving the competition right as she’s on another major upswing, but if you’re invested in Sara’s journey the way most of you reading are, the pacing of this episode ends up being a real heartbreaker of denied gratification.
Initially, the time spent on Sara early on in this episode appears to be setting up a redemption arc. All the ingredients are there – she admits to the disappointment of falling to the middle of the pack in recent weeks, she admonishes herself for her “sh---y attitude, she gives us a boyfriend back at home as her primary method of motivation, and most importantly, even offers a manifesto of positivity to guide her through the week’s challenges. We expect a turnaround immediately. Instead, we get a Quickfire Challenge in which Sara’s dish doesn’t even warrant 5 seconds of screen time. It only gets worse from there.
The first challenge (make a dish using Creole tomatoes for guest judge Chef John Besh in 20 minutes) is actually a good one, as it’s entirely free of gimmick and gives the chefs one of their first real chances to show off their individual styles. Louis breaks free of his “file not found” status to impress with a tomato seed bouillon, while Carlos also makes an impact with his use of edible flowers. Ultimately, and rather unsurprisingly, it’s Nina who gets the win and immunity for her chilled watermelon soup, a dish that earns extra praise due to Nina’s ability to keep it cold on what appeared to be a very sweaty day. Resident quote generator Stephanie appears ready to self-flagellate after failing to woo John Besh with her too-simple tomato steaks. She says it best: “I made the worst impression on someone I think is a stud.” I think I’ll cry when Stephanie goes home.
Continuing with the Louisiana farm theme, this week’s actual elimination challenge is a complete and utter bomb, for a whole variety of reasons. Top Chef has never had a subtle relationship with product placement (Sara’s such a trooper for delivering that RAV4 name drop with only the slightest bit of self-loathing), but most of the time it doesn’t actually interfere with the integrity of the show. The same can’t be said for this week’s challenge, which requires each dish to prominently feature Philadelphia Cream Cheese. I actually gasped. There’s some talk about also using fresh ingredients from a Louisiana farm (and no butter whatsoever, although none of the chefs seem derailed by a twist that’s delivered as a bombshell), but other than that, this week’s challenge bares almost no relevance to New Orleans. Worse, we don’t even get to see the chefs complain about the awful challenge, as any comments about the inherent grossness of main component cream cheese would draw the ire of the financial backers. I don’t like it at all.
With only 90 minutes, there’s not much time for the contestants to prepare a family-style meal for eight of Besh’s executive chefs at La Provence. Time management is the main issue for almost everyone, hurting even those who eventually end up in the top. Sara’s hit especially hard, as her idea of stuffing lamb chops with an island-themed curry is hindered by the time it takes to get the filling out of uncooperative piping bags. With not enough time, the lamb is severely undercooked (“mine was not red, it was blue,” says Padma) and Tom’s face contorts at the thought of curry powder combining with cream cheese.
Sara thankfully doesn’t have her vegetables called “miserable” like Gail calls Travis’, nor is her food compared to cafeteria cuisine like Bene’s is by Tom, who seems personally affronted by t. Bene goes home, which seems about right, but not without dealing what appeals to be a fatal blow to Sara’s self esteem in the process.
Which brings me back to the question of Sara’s role in this contest, at least in the minds of the show’s producers. Despite some bouts of bossiness and a weird effort this week to make her look petty and resentful of Nina’s success (Nina wins for the fourth time, by the way), she’s not at all playing the role of the show’s villain, at least not yet. In fact, every down moment for Sara as of late has come with a humbling dose of mournful disappointment, which suggests that we're not meant to be rooting against her at this point. While Travis almost always gets defensive (he apparently wanted his meat to be cut raggedy, so says he), Sara is the first to point out her shortcomings, even referring to Gail as “ma’am” tonight. I can't tell what the narrative game plan is at this moment - especially with tonight's bait and switch - but I know it ultimately comes down to the dishes no matter what. With Nina and Justin quickly separating from the pack, Sara’s going to have to keep up the positive energy if she wants to reclaim her early glory.
Do you think Sara can rebound? Are you surprised Bravo viewers only rated John Besh's hair a 5 out of 10?
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