5 Things to Do this Weekend at MOA, Between Rounds of the Chef Challenge!

Of course, the big news this weekend is the Chef Challenge! Eight local chefs will be competing for a $10,000 prize. (The second place winner gets $1,000.) It all kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday, and continues all day Sunday. I’ll be one of the judges, so come and say hi! But is there anything else for the discriminating foodie to do at the Mall of America this weekend? You betcha’. Like:

1) Go to Tucci Bennuch and say hi to Asher Miller!

Lots of people have been asking: What happened to Asher Miller, former chef of Wolfgang Puck’s 20.21? Answer: He landed at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprise’s Mall of America restaurant Tucci Bennuch. His first day was March 24, and he tells me that he’ll be in a nice white shirt all weekend, waiting tables. After 8 weeks of waiting tables and other training, Miller will take to the stoves at Tucci Bennuch and start doing his own specials, revising the menus, and so forth. Then, he tells me, the plan is that in twelve or eighteen months he’ll move over to the Twin City Grill, another LEYE restaurant, tweak their kitchen, and when those two properties are in hand, Miller and LEYE will open something new here! I’ve always wondered why LEYE, which has such great Chicago restaurants, does so little here, except Big Bowl. That may change! Miller tells me that Tucci Bennuch is poised to start working with local farmers, something that 20.21 couldn’t do, so if you do drop in this weekend, raise a glass to a happy future of farm-driven food at the Mall. Why not?

2) Stop at Williams-Sonoma for Nielsen-Massey vanilla.

Subscribers to Minnesota Monthly will have read about one of chef John Kraus’s favorite ingredients, Nielsen-Massey Mexican vanilla. Kraus of course is the chef of super-hot bakery Patisserie 46, and he told me he likes Nielsen-Massey Mexican vanilla for its leathery, savory notes, and that he adds it to everything from pancake batter to French toast to add subtle notes that the palate doesn’t read as vanilla, but does read as good. And where can you get this vanilla? Williams-Sonoma.

3) Eat like Bruce Willis, Jane Fonda, and Jessica Simpson.

Where do A-List celebrities eat? At the Westwood, California Napa Valley Grille, probably because they’re trying to approximate life at the Mall of America Napa Valley Grille. And you can make Bruce Willis envy you even more by catching bargains at the MoA’s NVG happy hour, which runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday, and features a menu including $2.50 roast chicken sliders.

4) Eat prime rib, crab leg & sushi specials at Crave Sunday night.

If watching the finals Sunday afternoon makes you hungry—and it very likely will—consider dropping by Crave afterward for the $29.95 all you can eat prime rib and crab leg special, starting at 4 p.m.

5) Eat cheese curds!

Did you know you can get fresh cheese curds at Rybicki Cheese, and then just stand looking down on us at rotunda, eating cheese curds and gawking at all the fancy chefs? Yup, you can. Rybicki is open Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and is open Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

So come on down! There are no admission charges, though seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis, so you might want to get there early if you want a real seat. We’ll be giving away a foodie basket to the person or group showing the most support to their chosen chef, so make banners! T-shirts! Can’t wait to see you.

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