Page 1 Brash, Flash, Cash at the Charlies

The scene of the 7th Annual Charlie Awards. Left, Tom Kaiser played the role of doorman.

Ann Kim, co-founder of the wildly popular Young Joni, Pizzeria Lola and Hello Pizza, delivered the brashest line of the night when she accepted the Outstanding Restaurateur award at The Charlies 7th annual awards show on February 25.

"We wouldn’t be here today if we had bought a Jimmy John’s eight years ago," Kim declared, referring to the decision she was considering with husband and business partner Conrad Leifur, before deciding to launch their own restaurant instead. 

"We didn’t let fear stand in our way," she said, and then raised her voice. "We said—F**K fear," and the 500-plus crowd of similarly bold entrepreneurs, chefs and servers in the local foodie world roared their approval.

It was a crowd-pleasing moment among many, in a night when three finalists for each of nine categories (four for Rising Star), plus a lifetime achievement award recipient, hooted and hollered when their guy or gal was named as a finalist, and then cheered and applauded some more when the winner was announced.

Foodservice News’ own Laura Michaels, in a fabulous gold-and-black sequined dress, and Nancy Weingartner Monroe, with a glamorous blonde hairdo, engineered the co-hosting duties on stage. The publication acquired the Charlies last year from co-founders Sue Zelickson and Scott Mayer, who also played a key role during the transition and appeared on stage to present the Lifetime Achievement Award.

That award went to Wayne Kostroski, instrumental in operating the late, great Tejas, Figlio and Goodfellow's restaurants among others, and founder of Taste of the NFL. Dubbed "party with a purpose" and held on the eve of the Super Bowl each year, the event has raised millions to support hunger relief across the country.

"Pat each other on the backs," Kostroski told the crowd when accepting his award. "Think of what this Twin Cities culinary industry does. You are the greatest people in the world in the greatest profession in the world," and on this post-snowstorm afternoon in the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis and afterward at the afterparty at Seven Steakhouse, it was an easy idea to believe.

The second part of the Charlie Awards starts at 6 p.m. March 12 at Open Arms, the official recipient of the funds raised by the Charlies. The team behind Joan’s in the Park, last year’s Outstanding Restaurant winner, will help prepare the gala dinner, with help from Open Arms’ chefs and a culinary team put together by Pat Weber of Mise in Place.

The award winners were charming, sweet, funny or emotional, each in his or her signature style. Adam Eaton won the Rising Star award, for his role at Saint Dinette, turning out what he called "elevated fat-kid food" in Lowertown St. Paul. He is already moving on to his own restaurant, as he prepares to open a Montreal-style bagel shop and deli in Lyn-Lake with Tim Niver, his boss at Saint Dinette, and Laurel Elm, general manager there.

He thanked both his mentor and his wife, and was visibly excited to be on the young end of the award winners. "It is overwhelming and humbling to be in a room with peers I respect," he said. 

Jamie Malone, who accepted the Outstanding Chef award, joked that the man dressed as a butler and handing out the distinctive Charlie Awards white dining plates, covered with a silver-plated cover, looks uncannily like a certain famous actor. "I’ve been pretending all night that Steve Carell has a secret fetish, and that is handing out these plates," she said. (He’s really Greg DeMarco, Foodservice New’ well-connected advertising salesperson.) Malone continued: "Oh my god, this industry is amazing and I’m so lucky."

Brie Roland came literally running up the aisles, easy-to-spot in a vivid red dress, and onto the stage to accept her Beverage Innovator award for the best-thing-in-the-Twin-Cities, in this writer’s humble opinion: the bubbly bar at St. Genevieve. Roland’s goal is to make Champagne into an everyday drink, and not just for special occasions, which is a truly good motto to live by.

"I literally just got here from teaching a Champagne class," Roland said on stage. "I want to thank my mentor and friend Steven Brown," owner of St. Genevieve, and husband and chef Dustin Thompson.

Good-looking sneakers were the go-to footwear, with a red velvet pair, a black-and-cream check pair and a white pair with primary-color stripes, that last one on presenter and former Outstanding Restaurateur winner Kim Bartmann.

True to Minnesota form, many were rocking their boots, like a gorgeous pair of tall, silver glitter boots and a platform sky-high-heeled black booties worn by singer Erin Schwab, singing with Jay Fuchs and his All-Star Band. The red-headed singer strutted the stage and belted out a corny Charlies song: "Charlie Awards, Charlie Awards, it’s where the foodies come to see if their goodies won." The terrific live band kept the crowd jumping all afternoon.

Malone of Grand Café wore a graceful velvet dress underneath an oversized cream faux fur jacket, and Samlali Raja wore a brilliant blue long gown with elaborate embroidery. Raja accepted the Hidden Gem award with her husband, Hassan Ziadi, for their restaurant in Midtown Global Market called Moroccan Flavors.

And out front, staffer Tom Kaiser looked dapper as he welcomed guests to The Charlies, decked out in top hat, cane and monocle, although the monocle didn’t fit his eye and was left behind.

Co-host Roshini Rajkumar of WCCO Radio even got a bit political, asking her co-host, Amol Dixit of Hot Indian Foods, what the Charlies has that the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the Emmys all lack? "Two South Asians on the stage together, co-hosting," she said.

The best bit, though, has to go to Joey Hamburger, local actor and stand-up comic who appeared in a video and in person as Zac La Cremme, terribly pretentious and au courant celebrity chef who poked fun at the culinary world in a spoof of the popular "Chef’s" Table TV show.

"When I was 10 years old I was watching Ratatouille, and I said, ‘That’s  crazy, a rat can’t cook’  but maybe I can,"  he said. Said his fellow actor on the video, wearing oversized glasses and dubbed as a New York Times food critic (Foodservice News’ Server Speak columnist Iris Page): "He makes you question the food he puts in front of you—can I eat this?" she said.

Finally, he answered the question that’s on every chef’s mind: What’s next for Zac La Cremme?  "I’m going to deconstruct food," he said, planning to take meat, lettuce, bread, tomatoes and "eat them all separately standing over a sink." No doubt Zac will be accepting his own Charlies award one day soon.