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The National Spotlight Shines on MN Restaurant Industry

As in years past, when the 2017 Oscar nominations came out in January, several of my friends immediately blocked off whole weekends to binge watch every film up for a best picture award.

I, however, was waiting for our industry’s version of the Academy Awards, the one that honors restaurants and restaurateurs, chefs and pastry chefs, the bakers, and the bars. That’s right, folks, it’s James Beard Awards time, and again this year Minnesota is well represented in the group of semifinalists (check out the full list below). 

Of the 15 Twin Cities chefs, bakers and restaurants up for an award, 10 of those chefs are in the Best Chef: Midwest category, while the others are semifinalists in national categories. This includes Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis, who’s being considered for Outstanding Chef, an award that honors “a working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals.” 

After interviewing Roberts last fall for our Top Chef book, which had a focus on mentorship and how leading chefs in the Twin Cities are impacting and inspiring the chefs coming after them, I think Roberts should be a lock for this one. 

Now if I can just get my expense budget approved to sip and sup at his new Cafe Alma—and every other spot on the list—before the big award ceremony in Chicago on May 1. (Semifinalists need to get through a round of voting to make the final nominee cut. Sure it might be a bit spendier than seeing the eight best picture nominees, but I can chalk it up to industry research, right?

Research was certainly important as I worked on this month’s main cover story. I’ll admit, HVAC systems and predictive heating and cooling weren’t already in my arsenal of knowledge. But now after talking with Deepinder Singh, CEO of climate control and energy management company 75F, not only do I understand the technology aspect but also the opportunities these systems and others present to   run restaurants more efficiently. 

And I’m not just talking about efficiencies in energy usage;  there are lighting management systems that save time and, though I know it’s not a sexy topic, automated oil management that in turn lets employees focus their talents on more important things than disposing of fryer oil. As Singh told me, “The future has to be one of proactive, predictive systems.” As the saying goes, the future is now, and smart restaurant operators will take advantage of these technologies so they can focus their attention on more pressing issues such as employee retention and improving the guest experience. 

More and more, part of that guest experience for restaurants means offering delivery; and for those choosing a third-party service, that means fees. Reporter Nicholas Upton tackles that topic this month and learns that while the process of determining fees is murky at best, restaurant owners do have a negotiation advantage as multiple services such as DoorDash, UberEats and Amazon compete for business. 

We’re of course continuing to follow the developing story that is the Minnesota Legislature as lawmakers consider a uniform state labor standards  bill that, if signed into law, would preempt local ordinances such as those passed in Minneapolis and St. Paul requiring paid sick and safe leave. 

Let FSN keep you updated on all this and more so you can spend 7 hours and 47 minutes watching this year’s best documentary feature film, “O.J.: Made in America,” the longest ever to be nominated for an Academy Award. 

James Beard Awards
2017 Minnesota Semifinalists 

Alex Roberts, who in 2010 won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Midwest, is now a semifinalist for Outstanding Chef.

Outstanding Chef
Alex Roberts, Restaurant Alma, Minneapolis


Outstanding Pastry Chef
Diane Yang, Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis


Outstanding Baker
Michelle Gayer, Salty Tart, Minneapolis


Best New Restaurant
Esker Grove at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis


Outstanding Bar Program
Marvel Bar, Minneapolis


Best Chef: Midwest
Bob Gerken, Mike Brown,
James Winberg, Travail Kitchen & Amusements, Robbinsdale
Steven Brown, Tilia, Minneapolis
Jim Christiansen, Heyday, Minneapolis
Jorge Guzman, Surly Brewing Co., Minneapolis
Thomas Boemer, Corner Table, Minneapolis
Erick Harcey, Upton 43, Minneapolis
Ann Kim, Young Joni, Minneapolis
Lisa Carlson, Chef Shack, Bay City, WI, and Chef Shack Ranch, Minneapolis

*The Midwest region includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

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