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From the Editor: How the Charlie Finalists Were Chosen

I’ve always been a great Charlies attendee. I sat in the audience next to the late, great Bill Morrissey in 2014 when his St. Paul Grill won best menu item, became a huge fan of Davina and the Vagabonds the first two years they kicked off the show, and was relieved the year the award winner finally rushed up on the stage after a bathroom break—or was he at the bar? I’ve sampled the infamous Charlie’s Exceptionale potato salad many times, and polished off a few of the signature drinks over the years. I liked everything about it, except for the trek from the Pantages Theater to the IDS Center for the after-party in the sloppy cold slush of a Minnesota winter. But this year I’ve gone from out front to back of the house. When Foodservice News partnered with the founders of the Charlie Awards, Sue Zelickson and Scott Mayer, I joined the ranks of the myriad people who produce the Twin Cities culinary community's celebration of itself. 

One of the things we heard from several sources as we dove into organizing this year’s event is that the community wanted more transparency on how the finalists are chosen. So here’s the scoop: The nomination process began with the Charlies Kick-off event back in September. An invitation was sent via email, social media and Foodservice News to join us in nominating your favorites in nine categories. From there we opened online nominations, which culminated with voting at our Business Summit at Surly Brewing in mid-October. The nominations were tabulated and a committee of past winners gathered at the downtown Minneapolis Hilton to curate the list, discussing who may have been overlooked for this honor and who stood out. I was pleasantly surprised with how thoughtful the observations were—no bashing or grandstanding here. Actually, there was no reason for me to be surprised because I see proof every day of how generous and close-knit our foodservice industry is here. 

From there we whittled down the list to three in each category (Rising Star has four, and Lifetime Achievement has just one). Foodservice News then made the final decision (we still want that element of surprise at the event and the fewer people who know the secret, the less chance you have of it leaking out), based on the votes and conversations. 

We did our best to have a good mix of the high-profile celebrity types (the Twin Cities chefs and restaurants getting all the attention) with some people and places that aren’t on everyone’s radar, but should be, such as the Hidden Gems, the unsung heroes, who are doing superior work.

We know that we left some well-deserving people on the cutting room floor (as an editor, sometimes I have to edit out some great paragraphs because the story has run out of newsprint space). It’s the nature of awards. And as Scott Mayer, who did this for six years kept telling us, you only have a little over an hour to keep people's interest at a show until they start getting antsy and want to leave.

But no one can say the list we’ve compiled for the Charlie Awards isn’t filled with wonderful stories and good-hearted, talented people.

In the mini profiles we’ve included later in this issue, we tried to give a flavor of the person or place in just a few more words than Twitter allows. So you won’t see a long list of their awards or their résumé of where they’ve worked before landing in their current gig. But we hope you’ll understand why they were singled out for their particular category. And thanks to the internet, you can always look them up if you want more info.

And we also hope that you’ll be in the audience Sunday, February 25, at the Pantages, when the curtain goes up at 3:30 p.m. Remember, this isn’t just about the people being honored from the stage, it’s a love letter to everyone in the industry to celebrate the diversity of foodservice in its cuisines, people, locations, style and approaches. And if that’s not enough: There’s free food and drinks. And did we mention there’s alcohol?



What do jails and colleges have in common? Top ramen. That brick of hard-as-rock noodles and a tiny packet of seasonings is currently prison currency, Mecca Bos writes in her Industrial Dining feature this month. And, although the price has risen significantly since I was in college and could get 10 packages for $1, it’s still one of the cheapest meals out there, perfect for struggling students and artists or, people in foodservice. I even remember on several occasions breaking the hard noodles into a coleslaw-type salad with sliced almonds. And I wonder why my kids’ favorite thing to come out of the kitchen when they were growing up is my homemade Playdough (I used to color it in delicate pastel shades and add almond or vanilla extract for an additional dose of sensory stimulation.)

Mecca, who a prominent restaurateur in town called the best food writer out there, has a second piece in this issue on sexual harassment in kitchens. It's a different take on the issue than what you've been hearing. Definitely worth a read.

A fact I found out when researching this month's Buy the Numbers column is that Bar Master Marco Zappia’s mother hand-stitches the coasters used at Martina's bar. Those are the kind of details I live for, and I’m a little miffed at Marco that after dining there three times in less than a month, I had to learn that from reading Emily Cassel’s article on the restaurant in City Pages.

Thank goodness I always have another issue. Even if it is a double entendre. 

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