Charlie Awards honor Twin Cities restaurants and food professionals

The stage was set with a long white-linen-covered table, holding gleaming covered trays.  Beneath them were the trophy plates inscribed with the names of the winners for the Twin Cities' first annual Charlie Awards. Organized by preeminent foodie Sue Zelickson with the help of wonder producer Scott Mayer, the Sunday-evening event kicked off with a cabaret version of Beauty & the Beast's "Be Our Guest," hilariously tailored to fit our area's dining scene.

What ensued was one of the speediest, most entertaining awards shows we've ever seen--the Oscars should take note. Of course, what everyone was anxiously waiting for was the announcement of those names.

The Charlie Awards were named for Charlie's Café Exceptional, a restaurant that was an icon of the Minneapolis dining scene. As host Robyn Robinson explained, it was a proper supper club with a staff that cared for their diners as family, a restaurant that lasted many eras but is sadly gone today.

The first award of the evening was for Exceptional Pastry Chef, which was awarded to Khanh Tran, who noted they spelled her name incorrectly on the award.

Outstanding Chef was awarded to Tim McKee, who may not be in a kitchen as often as an office these days, but it's no doubt that his presence is felt in many of our best restaurants around the city. He thanked his teams at La Belle Vie and Parasole, which have been working closely with him to bring a little of that McKee magic to their menus.

There were interludes from a beyond-the-grave Julia Child, who made fun of the mayor's socks and Zelickson's stature, "Stand up, dear! Oh, you are, aren't you?"  The Church Basement Ladies sang an ode to beige food, beloved by Lutherans, while Davina and the Vagabonds performed in their cool-cat jazz style.

The best dish award, which had been voted on by eaters around the city, after each restaurant nominated what they thought best represented them, went to Porter Creek Hardwood Grill, for its Salmon with Roasted Corn Sauce. They were thrilled and happy to throw a little love out to Burnsville.

The most emotional moment of the ceremony was when three veteran servers, Cheryl Brenzy and Roxanne Olson, both of Jax Cafe, and Marcia Freeman of Murray's, took the stage. Combined, they have been working in the industry for nearly 90 years. The crowd erupted into a spontanious standing ovation until one of the ladies quipped, "Okay! We're embarrassed!"  They presented the Oustanding Service Award to La Belle Vie. McKee accepted the award on behalf of Bill Summerville, Mike DeCamp, Diane Yang, and all the staff at the restaurant.

The next award, Emerging Food Professional, was awarded to Mike Phillips of Green Ox Meat Company, who took the recognition in stride. "Five years? I've been working on this for like 25 years!" His business, however, may still be young.

The final award of the evening was the Lifetime Acheivement, presented to the surprised D'Amico's and their partners. The company has set the stage for many of the wonderful talent we've come to appreciate in our cities.  Their kitchens have provided launching ground for many of our most talented chefs as well as introducing a  range of successful restaurants, from fine dining to lunch spots to Mexican and more. 

Overall the Charlie Awards were a quick peak behind the partition to see inside the world that that accompanies our finest meals.

For a complete list of the winners, visit the Charlie Awards website here.

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