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BEST LOCAL CHEF Minneapolis 2004 - Doug Flicker

Great chefs are, unfortunately for the thousands of kids flooding ham-handedly into cooking schools, born, and not made. Even more unfortunately, for them, they usually tend to be born into hot, stressful, unappreciative, frankly ridiculous kitchens where they must spend years toiling in obscurity, honing their craft for nobody, and following a distant star that risks being blotted out by a thousand broken dishwashers and shrieking, fat-free-pasta-carbonara-demanding customers. Unfortunately for him, Doug Flicker has followed just such a rough path. Years and years in obscurity in the hottest, least remunerative prestige kitchens that Minneapolis had to offer. Seven years behind the line in his own restaurant. Trials, tribulations, worse. All through it, though, he has honed and refined his craft, perfecting the sear on the poultry, the texture of the sauce, the exact ratios of sweet to salt that will snap the mind to attention and coax the palate into submission. Now, now Flicker's cooking is like nothing so much as a Kandinsky drawing, clear colors and melodies sketched in confidently together, but never overdone, never muddying one another. For instance, a recent beef carpaccio was a red glaze on the plate, all salt, winey beef age, and depth, but the top was scattered with green garlic confit and slivers of ripe fig, the garlic notes sweet and hot, pricking the mellow, deep, coffee-notes from the beef, the sweet fig pulling the other way, the sweetness and fruit illuminating the rich, winey character of the meat. In another course, a homemade cured slice of rosy goose glistened with the grass and wind of the prairie, and sat happily on a tender flat gnocchi, like a pearl on an oyster, in winter-prairie form. Over the seven years he's been standing with sauté pan at Auriga, Flicker has developed an enormous reservoir of faith and trust in his clientele; a recent menu offered, quite plainly, in bold type, "Italian Canned Tuna." People were ordering it, which is unimaginable in any other restaurant in town. But diners at Auriga trust that if it's canned tuna, the accompanying poached egg, homemade sourdough crackers, and chickpea puree will be worth ordering, and even worth writing home about. That's the reward of traveling the most difficult of paths: Once you master it, the faithful will follow you anywhere.

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