Very interesting. The Twin Cities are famous for having a chef-community that is collaborative, supportive, and friendly (and not back-biting, self-serving, and opportunist.) But can our little community withstand Food & Wine's new award program?
Food people are well aware of Food & Wine magazine's annual award designating the most important new chefs of the year. We haven't had one in the Twin Cities for a bit, but past winners are some of our fair city's best known chefs--including Tim McKee (La Belle Vie, and so on), Stewart Woodman (Heidi's), and Seth Bixby Daugherty, (who isn't currently in charge of a kitchen but works on childhood nutrition through his RealFoodInitiatives.com.) There's been a lot of rumor floating around town this year that either Erik Andersen (Sea Change, protege of Tim McKee) or Landon Schoenefeld (Haute Dish) would be nominated. Now, they both are! In a weird way. Along with Mike Brown and James Winberg of Travail.
How could the Twin Cities have so many nominees? Because they changed the rules! This year instead of simply decreeing the final 10 best new chefs in America, Food & Wine has gone all digital and social: They've nominated a top 100, ten from each of ten regions around the country, and in the Midwest (which is different from the Great Lakes, thus separating us from Chicago), we've got three nominees. (Brown and Winberg of Travail hold one nomination together.) So, on the one hand: That's just fantastic. Out of the top 100 up-and-coming chefs in the entire United States, Minneapolis, and Robbinsdale, have 3! On the other hand, these four young chefs are suddenly pitted against each other for the prize that can help them be the next Tim McKee.
Here's why. It's all about voting! It's all about internet voting, spurred through community buzz, little notes on menus, little cards presented with the check, and so forth, all of which will work mightily to raise the profile of Food & Wine and - hmm. Food & Wine's rules say that being nominated for this larger contest, technically called The People's Best New Chef award, does not preclude a chef from being named a Food & Wine Best New Chef, much in the way that City Pages Best of the Twin Cities awards nominate both a reader pick (for instance, McDonald's for French fries,) as well as an editor pick, (for instance, Bar Lurcat, for French fries.) Still, how weird would it be to have Food & Wine pick Erik Andersen as a best new chef, regular division, and then to have Landon Schoenefeld off to one side as the, depending on your read, slightly-better or slightly-worse winner?
Not that that will happen. Handicapping it, I'm guessing that Minnesota splits the vote three ways, and loses. We're up against Kevin Willman, for one, a brilliant St. Louis chef who's the talk of the town there, and while there are two St. Louis nominees, he's the real threat. Unless the real threat is undermining our supportive and collaborative restaurant community? (You'll recall that Erik Andersen helped Landon Schoenefeld with the charcuterie during the open of Haute Dish, and that the whole field of them worked collaboratively at Porter & Frye under Steven Brown.) What next? Vote! Gossip! Vote some more!
Congrats everyone! And Minnesota: Take a bow! Three - or four - of the top 100, that's a big deal. Hooray!
- Dara Moskowitz-Grumdahl
Read Dara's blog-tastic site at Minnesota Monthly, and don't forget about her book, Drink This: Wine Made Simple.