“Where’s J.D. Fratzke?”
Not what I expected to say, as Joy Summers and I co-hosted the Charlie Awards at the beautiful Pantages Theatre. We knew J.D. was in the house because he performed with Thomas Boemer and a band of local chefs and restaurant people. Marshall Paulsen, the 2015 Outstanding Chef award winner from Birchwood Cafe just gave a passionate, non-scripted talk about how important J.D. was to other chefs in town as a mentor, and to the community as a passionate, caring, loving chef at Strip Club Meat & Fish. But J.D. wasn’t in the room when his name was called as the 2016 Outstanding Chef.
Surprise is what makes the Charlie Awards special (and a little weird—I wish they’d announce the nominees ahead of time). No one knows who’s nominated for awards like Outstanding Chef, Outstanding Restaurant, Brewery, Distillery, Bakery, even the lifetime achievement award was a shock to Lynn Rosseto Kasper, the incredible and iconic host of The Splendid Table. She was tricked into attending the ceremony by last year’s lifetime achievement award winner, Molly Broder.
Joy had to reach out to Eddie Wu, owner of Cook St. Paul, to make sure he was there to get his award as Emerging Food Professional. There were so many wonderful, heart-tugging moments. Fernando Silva was honored as Community Hero—not because of his fine work as owner and chef at Harriet Brasserie, but because he saved a life after signing up as a marrow donor with Be The Match.
Watching Susan and Joan collect the award for Outstanding Restaurant for Joan’s In The Park was a highlight. I profiled this wonderful couple on WCCO, if you haven’t been to Joan’s On The Park, get there soon. Town Hall Brewery has been outstanding for 19 years, and they were honored. Tattersall Distilling just opened, but there’s no question as to their worth as outstanding distillery. Patisserie 46 has been on a hot streak of awards of late—John Kraus took Outstanding Bakery. Nathaniel Smith of Spoon & Stable has been honored nationally, but it was still cool to see him honored with the Charlie Award for Outstanding Brewery. MidNord Empanada won outstanding food truck, and Phil Gaffney talked about the end of the food truck season and how he was going to get to reconnect with his wife, Megan. I couldn’t help but point out that Megan appeared to be pregnant, so they’ve done at least some connecting.
So where was J.D.? Thomas Boemer ran next door to Seven, where J.D. was sitting at the bar. “In my defense, I didn’t even know I was nominated,” he said. J.D. talked about his love for Minnesota, how the river runs through his veins, as a local kid who grew up cooking in Winona. “I cook for you. I cook for us,” he said. It’s the best of Minnesota’s food scene: farmers, chefs, owners, servers, eaters—all coming together to honor friends, to celebrate community, and to look forward to more great meals ahead.