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The Trifecta of the Charlies Draws Celebration to a Close

Susan Dunlop, left, and Joan Schmitt of Joan's in the Park, last year's winner of Outstanding Restaurant, prepare some of their specialties for the VIPs.

It was an all-star culinary team in the kitchen: last year’s Outstanding Restaurant team of Susan Dunlop and Joan Schmitt of Joan’s in the Park; Patisserie 46’s John Kraus (Outstanding Bakery); Kat Nelson of Cook St. Paul representing Eddie Wu (the Emerging Food Professional); Seth Bixby Daugherty, a past Community Hero and the new executive chef at Open Arms; Margaret Chamberlain, Open Arms’ pastry chef extraordinaire; and hosts of dedicated volunteers. The reigning Outstanding Chef, J.D. Fratzke, wasn’t able to make it, but while it was too early for this year’s Outstanding Chef, Jamie Malone of The Grand Café, to carry on the tradition of the previous year’s
winners cooking for the current year’s, she did a good job schmoozing in the kitchen.

While for these talented chefs it was one more night over a hot stove, it was an honor to be cooking for their peers at the Charlies’ VIP Event, Dunlop pointed out. Winning a Charlie Award was an unexpected gift, and the two women said they display their Charlies' plate in the restaurant with pride. The distinction of being chosen by their community as the best restaurant, Schmitt added, has introduced their small white-tablecloth restaurant in St. Paul to a new group of diners who may not have otherwise made the trek across the river to find them.

Hassan Ziadi of Moroccan Flavors, the 2018 Hidden Gem, said he and his wife and chef partner,  Raja, had hung their award plate and already were seeing newcomers to the restaurant. As they were talking about it, a woman rushed over to tell them she and a group of friends had made plans to visit the restaurant on the following Saturday. "What should I order?" she asked, and as Ziadi went through some of their menu offerings, she stopped him at Chicken Tagine, explaining that was her favorite dish when she visited Morocco. And then the conversation veered to the beauty of Morocco. 

In addition to three different styles of beer donated by industry sponsor Finnegans, Bang Brewing, a finalist in the Beverage Innovator category, generously donated two cases of its environmentally friendly brews. Both tables stayed busy. 

Bottles of wine were both served to guests and served as door prizes,donated by Michael David Winery, Paustis Wine Company, Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirit and the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association. City Girl Coffee Co. supplied its brew, along with samples of its Guatemalan blend.

While the chefs donated their skill, US Foods donated the food. Pat Weber, who was also up for a Community Hero award, coordinated the volunteers, chefs and staff masterfully, with the gracious help of Open Arms staff.

The gathering was one more example of how generous the Twin Cities’ food and drink purveyors are. And fun.

Charlies co-founder Sue Zelickson and Open Arms Executive Director Leah Hébert Welles held court as they greeted and were greeted by guests. 

For past Charlie Awards, the VIP dinner was held immediately after the awards ceremony and afterparty at the IDS Crystal Court and Windows on Minnesota, respectively. But this year, the event that’s a thank you to sponsors, finalists and the culinary community, was held two weeks later at Open Arms, the recipient of the Charlies' proceeds. 

The format was more casual, with cooking stations rather than a sit-down dinner, which proved to be more conducive to mingling. It was also nice for chefs and foodies to tour the state-of-the-art kitchen that is a beehive of activity every day (for more on the kitchen’s abilities, see Mecca Bos's  article on page 22).

Comic Joey Hamburger reprised his role of Chef Zac La Cremme from the video aired at the Charlies, with his food station of deconstructed ham sandwiches. “You eat the ingredients one at a time,” he explained, “and then it combines to make a sandwich in your stomach.” Squirting mayo in one’s mouth to complete the sandwich was more than most guests wanted to try. 

While the legitimate chefs didn’t have much in the way of leftovers to contend with, not surprisingly, Hamburger was left holding the bag of white bread and a lot of single-wrapped pieces of cheese. 

One doesn’t expect to encounter a love story at a charity benefit, but that’s exactly what we found when we interviewed Justin and Annie Barlow, who were helping serve food at the Open Arms table. Years ago the two had gone to college together, and then lost track of each other. But what always connected them vicariously was Open Arms. Justin volunteered in Minneapolis and Annie in South Africa. When Annie moved back to the Twin Cities, the two reconnected. For her first Christmas present to Justin, Annie went through the Open Arms' training so they could work as a team. Spending the day together at Open Arms was Justin’s birthday present this year, Annie says laughing. 

As a physician’s assistant, Annie refers patients “all the time to Open Arms.” Justin has had two employers that encourages employees to volunteer with local agencies, first Target Corporation and presently, Xcel Energy. 

With what we’ve learned about Open Arms since Foodservice News has been involved in the Charlies, we’re convinced the nonprofit attracts a lot of people like the Barlows—although we still put the couple in a category of commitment that’s pretty remarkable. 

Another heartwarming story was ProStart Instructor Mary Levinski and one of her students, Madelyn Adamski, who made the long trek up from Sauk Rapids together to attend the party. Levinski’s ProStart students just took first place in both the culinary and management portions of the statewide competition. How do they do it? “We do a lot of late nights and research,” Adamski says. “And we have a lot of drive.” And a really good teacher, a knowledgeable observer commented. 

One last item of business was presenting a check to Open Arms. Along with Foodservice News, co-founders of the Charlies, Scott Mayer and Sue Zelickson, were on hand to pass the envelope to Executive Director Leah Hebert Welles on behalf of the Charlies.

And now after a few good nights of sleep for everyone involved, we’ll start planning 2019’s bigger and better event. Stay tuned. 

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