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Congrats! 2020 Charlie Awards Coverage

Weather sometimes presents a credibility challenge to meteorologists, but at Foodservice News, we know for certain when a big snow storm is going to hit—it’s always on the day we present the Charlie Awards at the Pantages Theater. 

Last year we chewed our nails as we heard threats of an epic storm moving toward the Twin Cities, scheduled to hit just around 3:30 p.m., the exact moment when the show starts. This year, however, we got mid-calf snow in the morning and sunny skies to highlight all that snow by mid-afternoon. It may have discouraged potential attendees in the far-flung suburbs, but as we all know, Minnesotans are hearty people and the show must go on, snow or no snow—a sentiment a packed theater verified.  

The Charlie Awards, now in its ninth year, is the industry’s celebration of itself. We like to refer to it as the Academy Awards of the local foodservice community, and ironically we were the opening act for the actual Academy Awards later that night. 

Urban Youth from Appetite for Change with their healthy food rap.

There were a few aha—and even more ha ha—moments:

From the very French Vincent Francoual, a notable chef who presented the Outstanding Baker/Pastry Chef Award with Pat Weber of Mise en Place, we learned he doesn’t have an accent, we do. And, by the way, sugar and gluten are our friends—so eat more bread.

WCCO-TV’s Kim Johnson confessed that she was a foodie newbie, asking co-host Jason DeRusha if Olive Garden was a good dining choice. Not missing a beat, DeRusha replied that it just so happened that it was up for Outstanding Restaurant and that the salad dressing would be accepting the award. (OK, it was funnier when he said it.)

We almost had a first when last year’s Outstanding Restaurateur Luke Shimp of Red Rabbit and Red Cow was to present the award to his sister. Unfortunately, Stephanie Shimp was delayed—blame that on the weather, too—and Luke Shimp presented the award to the other half of the winning team, David Burley of Blue Plate Restaurant Company. “Your loss,” Burley said to the crowd,  lamenting the fact that his business partner wasn’t there to give the acceptance speech, because not only did she like such duties, she was better at that sort of thing than he was.  

A nice touch was that several of the winners had acceptance speeches ready. 

When first-time restaurateur Jami Olson was called to the stage to accept the award for Outstanding Restaurant for Popol Vu, she confessed that she didn’t have anything ready. “I’m new at this,” she said about the Charlies. “I thought the winners already knew so I have nothing prepared.” She still had a nicely unprepared thank you to staff and her peers in the audience. 

Jack Riebel of The Lexington accepts Outstanding Chef award.

Chef Jose Alarcon accompanied Olson on stage and, holding the Charlies plate, said “This is for the immigrants” without whom kitchens would not run as efficiently nor have as much heart. 

While the Charlies has tried to stay away from controversy, some of the most genuine moments on stage came from people thanking their staffs, talking about the many contributions of immigrants and the need to take care of employees’ physical and mental welfare. 

After delivering his poem, “Mexicans in the Parking Lot,” Master-baker-turned-poet Dan “Klecko” McGleno raised a fist and said, “I stand with the Mexicans” as he exited the stage. His poem and comment are in reference to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement closing Saint Agnes Bakery; and he wrote about the experience in his book of poetry that has been receiving national attention. 

A stand-out moment came when Emily Hunt Turner, founder of All Square, received the Community Hero Award for her work with formerly incarcerated individuals, who thanks to a toasted cheese sandwich restaurant and professional resources, learn life skills as well as business and cooking skills to help make their transition back into the mainstream supported, if not easy. 

Jametta Raspberry, who took home Rising Star honors, also gave a shout-out, this time to women in prison, whose back, she said, she has.

Another very real and touching moment came when Jack Riebel, a longtime chef, now the owner of The Lexington in St. Paul and The Cook and the Ox at the MSP Airport, accepted the Outstanding Chef award from last year’s chef, Justin Sutherland. Riebel has been battling cancer and in his acceptance speech he thanked his mother and wife before he choked up, waved his plate and left the stage to  thunderous applause.  

Another first was that the recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award gave their acceptance speech via video rather than from the stage. 

Phil Roberts and Pete Mihajlov both had other commitments out of town, but their very funny video and thank you follow-up were golden. A moment the audience especially liked was Roberts’ statement that someone once said their partnership would never last because “Pete’s a Catholic and you’re an asshole.”

Chef Jose Alacon gives a shout-out to the immigrants in the kitchen as Popol Vuh owner’s, Jamie Olson, looks on.

While two high school  ProStart instructors were on stage handing out the Rising Star award, their students were next door at Seven Steakhouse and Sushi preparing the food for the Afterparty. While having students prepare the spread gives most of the industry in attendance a day off, the students are happy to be learning from some of the pros, like the sushi chefs at Seven and the advanced students at Saint Paul College. Hillarie Markfort of Sauk-Rapids High School said the highlight for her was working at the JW Marriott kitchen downtown to do the prep. Working in a true commercial kitchen, rather than the one at school, was exciting, she enthused. What especially intrigued her, she added, was the “I think they call it a bird bath,” a huge mixer on wheels. 

At one time, the culinary schools in the Twin Cities covered the Afterparty duties, but as more and more closed, only Saint Paul College remained, and thanks to its instructor (and last year’s Community Hero) Nathan Sartain, the students are loyal to the industry, and had one of the highlights of the Afterparty, lamb lollipops.

“For the students, it’s a chance to get in front of the movers and shakers of the food industry,” said Sarah Johannes, a culinary instructor at Saint Paul College. “And they get to taste great food.”

There were also special Charlies’ logo’d cookies from Cookie Cart, a nonprofit that teaches baking and entrepreneurial skills to youngsters. 

Hennepin County Medical Center graciously provided samples of the famous Charlies Exceptionale Café potato salad, using the original recipe that was printed in the Star Tribune’s Taste section. And Open Arms, the recipient of the lion’s share of the funds raised by the Charlies, sent its chefs to man a table of their healthy food—although the macaroons were too delicious to be good for you, right?

US Foods not only donated the food, but also had a popular table where the food line started. 

I can’t imagine that when the party was finally over around 7 p.m., that anyone going home to watch the Hollywood Academy Awards saw a better show or a better group of recipients. 


Read more about The Charlie Awards

Put Your Hands Together for the Charlies Winners >>

Charlies Entertainment & Hosts >>

Presenting the Awards… >>

Recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award >>

The Charlies Afterparty >>

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