2015 marks the fifth year of the Charlie Awards, which Sue Zelickson, longtime foodie and philanthropist, Minnesota Monthly columnist (Sue Z.’s Finds), and a creator of the Charlie Awards, calls a “milestone.”
“We honor the front of house and back of house—it’s a good melting pot of all kinds of people getting honored,” says Zelickson. “If you don’t have a good team, there’s no restaurant.”
Anyone affiliated with an independent food or beverage establishment is eligible for a nomination by a peer. Only the establishments who submit a nomination can vote to select the final honorees that are announced at the awards.
But the awards show is just the beginning. The Minnesota Monthly after party in the IDS Crystal Court is when cocktails are served and culinary students get a taste of the limelight as they prep appetizers.
“Restaurateurs are being honored, so that’s why students cook. It also gives them the opportunity to cook for future employers—people that may one day hire them,” says Zelickson.
The night ends with what Zelickson calls the “VIP party” at Windows on Minnesota, located on the top floor of the Marquette Hotel. “It looks just like a wedding! The chefs that won last year create the menu.”
Of all the award-winning chefs that have curated the menu in the past, Zelickson stays true to the roots of the awards when choosing her favorite dish served.
“Charlie’s potato salad,” she reveals. The namesake Charlie’s Café Exceptionale closed in 1982, but was once a downtown dining hot spot where people gathered for special occasions, and Zelickson notes that they were known for their potato salad, a dish served at the very first Charlie Awards.
Aside from the food, Zelickson’s favorite part of the awards is the surprises. No one knows who is going to win each year—once resulting in a chef taking a bathroom break at the time his name was called to be honored.
And then there are the surprises that no one can predict, like the debut of the Taste Buds Band at last year’s awards.
“We got chefs together to bang pots and pans. Ann Kim [of Pizzeria Lola and Hello Pizza] used pizza pans as symbols,” explains Zelickson with a laugh.
This year, the music will be a bit more traditional featuring Erin Schwab and Jay Fuchs, and Metro Jam. Thomasina Petrus and Kieran Folliard will emcee the awards.
No matter the choice of entertainment, Zelickson is happy to run an event that brings the local dining community together to showcase their accomplishments.
“It used to just be chefs and restaurants, now we’re honoring breweries and cocktails. It’s exciting to see everything that’s being added to the culinary scene,” says Zelickson. “We’ve got good people and good food, and I’m so thankful to see all the support from the cities.”
The 2015 Charlie Awards will be held on Sunday, November 15 at the Pantages Theatre. Tickets are available at honorthyfood.com; at the box offices of the State, Orpheum and Pantages theatres; or at any Ticketmaster outlet. The cost for the main show and Minnesota Monthly after party at the IDS Crystal Court is $35 ($25 for industry members). The cost for attending all three events (awards show, Minnesota Monthly after party and Chefs Dinner) is $125, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Open Arms of Minnesota.