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Six Chefs Heat Up the Stage for Orchestra's Musical Feast

A bare-bones kitchen set up waits for the first chef to perform as the Minnesota Orchestra members take their place on stage.

A 38-foot traveling noodle, cork-popping with a sword and onstage frog leg sautéing were just the start of the culinary surprises during the second outing of the world’s only orchestra to bring an audience aromatic music.

The Minnesota Orchestra’s Musical Feast with Conductor Sarah Hicks Friday (July 26) treated the audience to three of the five senses—sight, hearing and smell, while reserving the other two for the official tasters, Food Philanthropist Sue Zelickson and Rick Nelson, the StarTribune’s star restaurant reviewer, plus four different groups of hand-picked guests. Professional waitstaff handled the serving duties and chefs from four restaurants cooked dishes paired with a complementary piece of music.

Jose Alarcon, executive chef at Centro/Popol Vuh, was the first to take the stage after the orchestra played the overture. To Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, Opus 68, Pastoral, he pressed and cooked meat-filled blue corn tortillas, which were then plated and served to the audience of seven on stage. After several “very goods” to described the dish, wordsmith Nelson, pleaded, “Can we have some different adjectives?”

Jack Riebel, executive chef and co-owner of the Lexington in St. Paul, cooked an elaborate meal featuring frog legs. While Riebel and his assistant rushed to finish plating, Conductor Hicks talked about how food needs to appeal to the eye as well as the palate. “Have you ever had an ugly meal?” she asked Zelickson. “Not from this chef,” Zelickson replied.

After intermission and the Champagne Polka amuse bouche, Jamie Malone, chef/owner of Grand Café—to the strains of La Valse—poured the tasters an electric-orange aperitif and placed a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket and a saber on an ornamental stand on the table.  She then sauntered back to the makeshift kitchen and began rolling out the pastry for her dish. After creating an elaborate round pastry, scored with leaf designs, she calmly placed it in the oven (those of us hooked on TV cooking shows with time limits were sweating a bit at this point). After a few minutes of chopping basil and stirring a cream sauce, Malone produced the first miracle of the night, removing from the oven not one, but two perfectly cooked “pithiviers,” filled with a farce (stuffing) of chicken, sweetbreads and pheasant. Malone then dramatically drew the sword and struck the cork, spewing champagne onto the stage.

When asked for his comment, Nelson said: “Sitting on the stage while the Minnesota Orchestra plays and Jamie Malone cooks is a four-star experience.”

The final cooking demonstration was a theatrical presentation by Travail Collectives’ Mike Brown, Bob Gerken and James Winberg. Taking their inspiration from the orchestra’s arrangement of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the trio did their own very funny rendition of Mickey Mouse’s Fantasia.  Brown, dressed in red shorts and black suspenders was relegated to sweeping while Gerken and Winberg taught the tasters how to make pasta. Bored, Brown turned his broom into a guitar, golf club and cello, much to the real musicians delight. Using the onstage pasta machine, Winberg produced a long, wide sheet of pasta, which he and the servers paraded around the audience before wrapping it around Brown.

The finale was an original rap, Grow Food, by students with Appetite for Change.

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