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Breaking Down the Charlies

How the Cities' tastiest awards show was cooked up.


logo courtesy the charlie awards

Forget the James Beard Awards in the Big Apple—on November 16, the Charlie Awards come back to the Minneapple.

Sue Zelickson, a Twin Cities foodie philanthropist and James Beard Award winner, conceived of the idea for the awards ceremony five years ago when leaving the Ivey Awards, which celebrate the Twin Cities theater community.

“I walked out and wondered why we don’t honor our chefs and restaurateurs the same way that we honor our theater community,” says Zelickson. “I wanted to show them how much we appreciate all they do every day and at charity events, too.”

Zelickson collaborated with Ivey Awards producer Scott Mayer, and the first annual Charlie Awards were held in 2011. Three years later, the team is gearing up for round four. The award categories and opportunities for public participation have ramped up, and this year’s show is set to be bigger and better than ever.

The Charlie Awards aren’t just about celebrating the present—they give a nod to the past as well. The ceremony is named after Charlie’s Café Exceptionale, once a premier downtown spot for celebrating special occasions.

“It was such a special place, and it was owned by a local family,” says Zelickson of the now-shuttered restaurant.. “Since we wanted to celebrate the locals, it seemed fitting.”

And after the ceremony, gourmands can get a peek into the future of dining in the Cities—the afterparty is catered by students from the four culinary schools in the metro area. It gives the students experience and allows foodies to check out the next batch of rising talent.

“It’s chefs and students and restaurateurs and people on the business side—it’s just a nice melting together of our food community,” says Zelickson.

Purchase tickets to the Charlie Awards, the afterparty, and the VIP dinner (with a menu created by last years’ winners) on the Charlies website.

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Minnesota Monthly's Taste Blog answers your restaurant and dining questions, dishes on latest discoveries, reflects on breaking news, and generally brings the plate to the page with a skilled crew of experts: Learn more about the Taste bloggers.

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