It’s official. The six James Beard award-winning chefs from Minnesota have cooked together for the first time. Finally.
The occasion was none other than the Taste 50 Birthday Feast on Monday night at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.
In an oak-paneled room festooned with twinkly lights and the comfy glow of oil lamps, the 225 guests sat at four room-length communal tables, wooden chairs occasionally draped with woolen blankets in the spirt of hygge.
You heard that right. These Minnesotans were shoulder to shoulder with strangers.
It took only moments, or perhaps it was glasses of wine, for them to talk casually, even intently, laughing more than once (really!) with others they had just met. Then, with dishes cleared and the evening nearly over, they lingered at the table, chatting before the inevitable launch into the endless Minnesota goodbye.
It brought to mind a comment from James Beard: “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”
Yes, indeed, we were all together that night for a communal experience, a celebration of our respect for good food, whether prepared by restaurant chefs or home cooks.
Not so incidentally, both of those culinary approaches are part of Taste, one of the oldest continuous food sections in the nation, which was the whole reason for this one-of-a-kind gathering (50 years comes but once in a lifetime).
Beyond the meal, there were inspiring words on the importance of food as a way to build community. More on gratitude and introduction, and a warm welcome from ASI to “our home.”
And, of course, silliness: “Is anyone still hungry?” and “It’s 32 degrees outside the quail and 160 degrees inside the quail” about the outdoor grilling effort.
But never a word of dissension. Not one. Food does that. It brings us together.
So what did these chefs cook that had guests buzzing for hours about their favorites?
Blake Meier, executive chef of Fika at ASI: vegetable charcuterie on tiered plates, with a koginut squash terrine, pickled beet with lavender poppy seed crumble, truffle cheese ball and rye crouton.
Tim McKee, chef/owner of Octo Fishbar and senior vice president of development for the Fish Guys (and first of Minnesota’s Best Chef Midwest from James Beard in 2009): Beausoleil oyster with preserved lemon mignonette, wild-caught Gulf shrimp, Pacifico sea bass with citrus herb ponzu, scallop poke with shishito pepper and umeboshi, all served on triple-tiered plates.
Gavin Kaysen, chef/owner of Spoon and Stable, Bellecour and Demi (Beard Midwest, 2018): squash agnolotti, pheasant ragu with hazelnuts and Pecorino.
Ann Kim, chef/owner of Young Joni, Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza and the upcoming taqueria Sooki & Mimi (Beard Midwest, 2019): grilled Skull Island prawns with fuyu persimmon and purple daikon.
Isaac Becker, chef/owner of 112 Eatery, Bar La Grassa, Burch Restaurant and Snack Bar (Beard Midwest, 2011): chicken and lobster involtini with shellfish velouté.
Alex Roberts, chef/owner of Restaurant Alma, Cafe Alma and Brasa (Beard Midwest, 2010): grilled quail atop porcini foie gras bread pudding, with pickled red beets.
Paul Berglund, formerly of Bachelor Farmer and now doing pop-up dinners at local venues (Beard Midwest, 2016): roasted leg of lamb on rice pilaf, with olives, golden raisins and almonds.
Diane Moua, executive pastry chef of Spoon and Stable, Bellecour and Demi: A dessert course to bring home, wrapped in Taste newsprint, presented by Kaysen on her behalf: pistachio macaron, vanilla shortbread stars, pumpkin bread with pepitas.
And, yes, the meal was as good as it sounds.