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Burger Friday: A limited-edition Juicy Lucy at the Lexington in St. Paul

The burger: It’s not often that one of Minnesota’s gifts to the culinary universe — in this case, the cheese-stuffed burger known as the Juicy (or Jucy) Lucy — lands in the TV spotlight. But that’s what happened earlier this month, when Jack Riebel took a quick detour from his kitchen at the Lexington in St. Paul and spent 14 hours in a New York City television studio shooting an episode of the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.”

For the cooking showdown, Riebel devised and prepared a whopper of a Juicy Lucy. The all-important cheese is a Wisconsin-made Gouda from cheesemaker Marieke Penterman, a raw cow’s milk cheese infused with bits of black truffles — and black and white truffle oil — and aged a few months. It was chosen out of necessity, but it works, big time. 

'“We already had it on the menu,” said Riebel. “And of course the show wanted five recipes, and they wanted them tomorrow, you know? So I used what I had.”

Riebel puts that flavorful cheese through a reduction process — using sodium citrate, an anti-coagulant, then tossing in a few herbs and spices — to give it a sturdier melting point.

“That’s one of my knocks on the Juicy Lucy,” said Riebel. “The cheese is always so hot, and the beef is always so overcooked. I wanted to cook the beef to medium, and still have the cheese melt.”

Eureka: the revised Gouda isn’t volcano-level molten and oozy. It’s warm, yet it holds together -- a blob, not a gusher -- an inspired improvement.

As for the beef, wow. The majority is trimmings from the kitchen’s prime steaks, with some fatty chuck trimmings tossed in. Riebel estimates that the mix hovers somewhere near a rich 70/30 meat/fat ratio.

That’s not all. The ground beef is enriched with a secret seasoning mix: porcini mushroom powder, dried and ground onion and chipotle powder, among other goodies. “I want to give it as much umami as I can pack in,” he said. Yeah, no kidding.

That thick, cooked-to-medium-rare patty isn’t the hard-pressed hockey puck that is often the case with a Juicy Lucy. It’s looser, and, well, juicier.

“That’s the trick to any burger,” said Riebel. “You don’t want to handle the beef too much. The heat from your hands denatures the fat.”

It’s crowned with a blanket of soft caramelized onions. Riebel uses a technique he credits to British star chef Heston Blumenthal, a confit formula that uses sage, cracked pepper and star anise to their best advantages.

Last but not least is the lightly toasted, sesame-studded bun. It’s baked on the premises and fairly close to perfect: tender, with airy holes in its interior, but sturdy enough to hold up to that weighty, juiced-up patty.

No pickles (“Not on a Juicy Lucy,” said Riebel), but there is a representative from the vegetable family, a small bed of arugula slipped under the patty. The finishing touch is a liberal swipe of truffle aioli on the bottom bun.

“That’s for moisture,” said Riebel. “No one wants a dry sandwich.”

But everyone — certainly Juicy Lucy fans — will want a crack at this diet-busting beauty (and yes, it’s OK to eat this towering monster with a knife and fork; you’re seated in the paneled, patrician Lexington, after all). Don’t delay: it’s available only through March 1st.

Price: $25. Yeah, that’s some sticker shock, but justified (see, Steak Trimmings, above). But it also includes fries as well as any tap beer or glass of the house red or white wines.

Fries: Included, and cruelly addictive. They’re the bar’s garlic-parsley fries, and usually the scent of truffle on a French fry has me bolting in the opposite direction. Not here, where the scent taunts the nose but the flavor doesn’t overwhelm, a rarity.

Ready for his close-up: At the start of the tailgating-themed episode, Riebel makes one of the series’ better I-Mean-Business entrances, giving a football the mic-drop treatment. Following the show’s format, he and another chef — Paul Malvone of Boston Burger Co. — duke it out in a 20-minute segment showcasing an ingredient of Flay’s choosing, which in this case was bratwurst. Riebel won. No surprise, since he (accurately) described himself as “one of the sausage kings of Minneapolis.”

That victory advanced Riebel to the 45-minute challenge against Flay, who showed his Juicy Lucy chops with a green chile-pimento cheese rendition, with honey-glazed bacon, a green chile-red onion relish, red onion pickles and a smoked chile barbecue sauce. Flay was the victor, but to this viewer, Riebel was robbed.

“No sour grapes,” he said with a laugh. “It was a great experience. With these competitions, what I’ve learned is that it’s not how well you cook, it’s how few mistakes you make.”

The episode, titled “Bobby Gets Sacked” (it’s season 15, episode 3), is currently available on demand on Xfinity, and is scheduled for rebroadcast on March 22 at 9:30 p.m. and March 23 and 12:30 a.m. Check it out.

Where he burgers: “I’m not much of a burger guy, I’m more of a sausage guy,” said Riebel. “I like the burger at Kelly’s Depot Bar & Grill, because it’s a St. Paul dive bar, and I have a propensity for St. Paul dive bars. I’d have to say the best burger I’ve had recently was at Bull’s Horn. It was awesome.”

Address book: 1096 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-289-4990. Riebel’s TV star of a Juicy Lucy is available through March 1 (“we might later add it to the patio menu,” he said), and take note: it’s only served in the bar. Doors open at 4 p.m., and quantities are limited. “We always sell out,” said my very personable bartender.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

10 Minnesota chefs, 2 restaurants named James Beard semifinalists

Twelve Twin Cities chefs, bakers and restaurants have been named 2018 semifinalists in the food world’s highest honors, the James Beard Foundation awards.

The so-called “Oscars of the food world” recognize excellence across 21 chef- and restaurant-related categories.

Best Chef: Midwest is the category that garnered the most local names. This year’s semifinalists include:

Thomas Boemer of Corner Table in Minneapolis. Boemer is a 2016 and 2017 semifinalist.

Steven Brown of Tilia in Minneapolis. Brown is a 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017 semifinalist, and a 2017 nominee.

Lisa Carlson of Chef Shack Bay City in Bay City, Wis. Carlson is a 2017 semifinalist.

 

Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. Kaysen is the 2008 winner of the Rising Star Chef of the Year award, for his work at Cafe Boulud in New York City.

Ann Kim of Young Joni in Minneapolis. Kim is a 2017 semifinalist.

Jamie Malone of Grand Cafe in Minneapolis (pictured here with the restaurant's chef de cuisine, Alan Hlebaen). Malone is a 2014 semifinalist in this category, and a 2013 semifinalist in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category, both for her work at Sea Change.

Christina Nguyen of Hai Hai in Minneapolis. Nguyen is a first-time semifinalist.

 
 

Also in the mix: Jay Sparks of Lovechild in La Crosse, Wis. (pictured here with partner Joan Ferris). Although he’s no longer cooking in the Twin Cities, Sparks was the longtime corporate chef at D’Amico and Partners. He is a first-time semifinalist.

The award – it’s one of the Beard’s 10 regional chef honors – goes to chefs working in any kind of dining establishment “who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions.” Candidates must have been working as chefs for at least five years, with the past three in the region. The Beard’s Midwest region includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

Four Twin Cities chefs are previous Best Chef: Midwest winners: Tim McKee (formerly of La Belle Vie, now at Octo Fishbar) in 2009, Alex Roberts (Restaurant Alma) in 2010, Isaac Becker (112 Eatery) in 2011 and Paul Berglund (formerly of the Bachelor Farmer, now with Vestalia Hospitality) in 2016. Last year's winner was Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis.

In the Beard’s highly competitive national awards, Twin Cities chefs and restaurants made the cut in the following categories:

Best New Restaurant: Grand Cafe in Minneapolis. The award honors a restaurant opened in the calendar year prior to the award “that already displays excellence in food, beverage and service, and that is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.”

Outstanding Chef: Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis. The award honors “a working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals.” Roberts is a 2017 semifinalist in this category.

Outstanding Pastry Chef: Diane Yang of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. The award honors “a chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries or breads in a restaurant, and who serves as a national standard-bearer of excellence.” Yang is a 2016 and 2017 semifinalist in this category.

 

Outstanding Baker: Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart in Minneapolis. The award honors “a chef or baker who prepares breads, pastries or desserts in a retail bakery, and who serves as a national standard-bearer of excellence.” Gayer is a five-time nominee (across several categories) and this is her third semifinalist appearance in this category.

 

Outstanding Service: 112 Eatery in Minneapolis. The restaurant is a first-time semifinalist in this category. The award honors “a restaurant in operation for five or more years that demonstrates high standards of hospitality and service.”

For the complete list of semifinalists, go here.

Thursday’s semifinalist announcement is the first installment in a months-long, multi-step process.

The semifinalist ballot is distributed among 500-plus voters, including critics, writers, editors and past restaurant and chef award winners (the process is managed by an independent accounting firm). The top five vote-getters in each category ascend to the nominee level (that’s Beard-speak for “finalist”). This year’s nominees will be announced on March 14 at a breakfast in Philadelphia (follow along that morning on the foundation’s Twitter feed).

Once the nominees’ names are made public, a second ballot goes out to the same voting pool. The top vote-getter in that second round is awarded the coveted Beard medallion at the foundation’s annual gala awards ceremony. (All winners receive a medallion engraved with the James Beard Foundation insignia. There are no cash prizes).

The awards were established in 1990. This year’s event is scheduled for May 7 at Chicago’s Civic Opera House. Nominees (there are no semifinalists) in the foundation’s cookbook, media and design awards will also be announced on March 14. Winners in the cookbook and media categories will be announced at a dinner in New York City on April 27, and design winners will be announced in Chicago on May 7.

Congratulations to all the semifinalists. 

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