Later this week, the James Beard Awards will be handed out in NYC, and for many of us who delight in such gamesmanship, they are a fantastic way to talk shop and stir the pot. Who is the best chef in NYC? How to compare David Chang and Wiley Dufresne? Fun stuff! Closer to home, our chefs compete in a region that includes Iowa, the Dakotas, ‘Sconnie, Nebraska, Kansas, and Mizzou. I like it, despite the fact that it lumps together all the states that many coastal food snobs sneer at. It does take our lads out of the same category that the Chicago chefs are in, and because judges only can vote for restaurants that they have eaten in, well, you can see why the playing field wasn’t even in the past. More food writers and chefs eat in Chi-town than in Milwaukee. End of story. The JBA’s rules are as good as you can get under the circumstances. It’s tough to come up with rules and regs for a contest of this type, and I am thrilled to be a part of them once again, but as always seems to be the case, I will be away that night and unable to participate in all the fun. This year is especially sweet because three of the most deserving chefs in our region are all Twin Cities chefs. Here are the regional nominees:
BEST CHEF: MIDWEST (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)
Isaac Becker, ?112 Eatery, ?Minneapolis
Colby Garrelts, ?Bluestem, ?Kansas City, Missouri
Tim McKee, ?La Belle Vie?, Minneapolis
Alex Roberts, ?Restaurant Alma, ?Minneapolis
Adam Siegel, ?Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro, ?Milwaukee
I have eaten at all five restaurants, having dined at BLPB two years ago while covering a story for this magazine. Most recently I ate at Bluestem in KC when I was there on an overnight business trip. It was fantastic, a teeny little restaurant with several multi-course tasting menu options. I would run back in a second to eat there. Imagine food as easy to relate to as 112 Eatery’s served up with all the plating style of La Belle Vie in an atmosphere like the one that Alma has. Anyone heading to that part of the world should check it out: Killer foie gras, and the chef’s wife does the pastries. But I didn’t vote for him, nor did I vote for Adam Siegel who turns out great bistro fare in a giant-sized eatery on the lake in Milwaukee. I also didn’t vote for two of my favorite chefs in the Twin Cities. I adore the food at 112, and Isaac Becker has invented a genre of restaurant for our community that deserves huge praise. He is talented and runs a great boite, which is why it is packed all the time. I have never had a dud dish there, and several of his dishes I can taste right now as I am writing. Alma is Alex Roberts’s labor of love, a quiet and serene restaurant, not too fancy, serving what—to my taste—is some of the best food in town. I can not wait for the end of summer to see if he is making his striped bass magic again; I would bet on it. I have never had a bad meal at Alma, and it is one of the three best restaurants in town for food.
I did vote for Tim McKee. And here is why. Day in and day out, McKee and his team execute the most exciting food consistently and with style. Is LBV the best restaurant in town? Not if you like a casual, rootsy vibe. But the award is for best chef in our region, and McKee is just that. It will be interesting to see how the region shakes out in years to come, as Steven Brown and Stewart Woodman become eligible in their restaurants. Right now, they haven’t been open long enough to qualify. This is a very exciting time for our town; think about what a JBA for a Minnesota chef would do for our Twin Cities? More food and travel writers would steer readers here, there would be more exposure for the dozens of other deserving chefs in our state, and with all that would come more economic investment in our food community. Heck, it might even get some local couch potatoes to eat out more often! Congrats to all our local nominees. They are all winners in my book.
Tonight at 6:30 p.m. is the Taste of the Nation cocktail party at the Chambers Hotel. Tickets are $38, and all money raised goes toward ending child hunger. With your admission, you get a drink ticket and a chance to sample hors d'oeuvres prepared by chefs at several of the top restaurants in the Twin Cities, including Chambers Kitchen, Saffron, Sanctuary, Oceanaire, Cafe Ena, and Solera. To purchase tickets or for additional information, please go to the website. Also, the Twin Cities Taste of the Nation dinner will be held at the Graves 601 Hotel on Sunday, September 14. Tickets for that event start at $150 and go on sale tomorrow at the same web address. Be there!