SAN FRANCISCO – Chef Thomas Boemer from Corner Table in Minneapolis sliced off a piece of pork jowl, set it on a 2-inch disk of crispy rice with chili raisin sauce, and handed it to Minnesota Vikings retired Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel.
“This is 10 times better than bacon,” Boemer said.
Nick Rancone, his business partner at Corner Table and Revival restaurants, pointed to his own cheek to emphasize the juicy bit of pig that produced the cut.
Last Friday, the two Minneapolis chef/entrepreneurs joined counterparts from the other 31 cities with NFL teams at the 25th annual Taste of the NFL at the Cow Palace, a former concert and sports venue.
Twin Cities restaurateur Wayne Kostroski, who owns Franklin Street Bakery (and the former restaurants Goodfellows and Tejas), dreamed up the fundraiser, called “Party With a Purpose,” in 1992, the last time Minnesota played host to a Super Bowl. His aim was to get big-time chefs to come north in the deep winter and raise money to fight hunger.
Since then, Kostroski’s party has become a fancy fixture of Super Bowl week, with an NFL player at every booth, wine pairings, memorabilia auctions and live music. The event has raised $24 million over the years, which provided 192 million meals, Kostroski said. One hundred percent of the event’s proceeds go to food banks in NFL cities.
Rancone and Boemer volunteered their time and food, sending the pork jowl and fixings to San Francisco through FedEx. Their airfare and lodging were covered.
Celebrity guests roamed the hallways of the old arena and posed for photos. There was Andrew Zimmern of Minnesota, actress Alyssa Milano, musician-reality TV show star Nick Lachey, Miss America (Betty Cantrell) and, improbably, Ludacris. Asked what he was doing there, the rapper/actor/entrepreneur said in his distinctive deep voice, “Eating, like everybody else.”
The portions were generous and the flavors rich. In addition to Corner Table’s ridiculously delicious pork jowl, there was a luscious fried foie gras, peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the Prado at Balboa Park in San Diego.
At least one member of the Minnesota delegation in attendance queued up for multiple plates of handmade cavatelli with pork sausage and a generous grating of truffle from Davio’s in Boston.
Former Minnesota Viking Rich Gannon and his wife, Shelley, roamed the booths. She loved the shrimp risotto from Rathbun’s in Atlanta.
Some fan favorite players included the Packers’ Willie Buchanan, 49er and former Viking Chris Doleman, and Neil Smith, who played for the Kansas City Chiefs. They were among the 2,400 guests at the event.
Perhaps the only one not indulging at the party was Kostroski, who was too busy making sure the event went well.
“This is basically the biggest restaurant we’ve run,” he said.
“I don’t eat. I see all the food, but I don’t eat.”