The Hours: Taste of the Nation Hotlist 2016

Here’s a puree from Masu, of which I ate between 5-10 spoonfuls.

This was how our Hotlist ended, not with a walk back to the car but a lumber.

My half-sister Frances and I swayed like flagpoles in a storm. Stretch and lean back to loosen it up. Hooo! Lean forward and breath out hard to compress it. Is there any extra space in there? How many more steps until we get to the car?

It was a meal worth recapping, yes. We discussed the plate at Hola Arepa. Their dish was so good, I took seconds by lifting a paper plate up and dumping it right into my mouth. We remembered getting two drinks at a time from the Tattersall stand. The duck sliders Republic was peddlin’, thank goodness for those. They were tasty, and substantial.

All of those, and a couple of weenies from Spoon and Stable, glitter donuts from Glam Doll, ice cream from Izzy’s, and dish after dish after dish. They all came together one night, and made for an exhausting walk back to the car. No Kid Hungry puts on a hell of a party.

Now let’s hear from some others. Let’s hear from the man pouring alco-slushies in VIP, the TV anchor who crushed it while keeping himself fit for the stage, and the chef who made the night’s winning dish.

UPDATE: Initial figures have the night’s proceeds around $60,000, which equates to about 600,000 meals for kids! You can find out more information about No Kid Hungry on their website.

Ben Quam: the bowtie says business, but the slushie machine says party time.

Ben Quam, Alibi Lounge/The Exchange
Guests were trickling in and out of the VIP stronghold when the first hour came to a close. Back there, Alibi Lounge/Exchange General Manager Ben Quam was there to meet you with … a slushie machine?

A slushie machine.

Within one of the mixture bins was what Quam called a “Reverse Manhattan.”

“We wanted to give people that same flavor of a Manhattan,” he explained, “but, for a lot of people, that’s really aggressive. I thought, what if we could find a way to make that more appealing toward the masses and, to steal a beer term, more sessionable? So, we made a Manhattan that became a slushie.”

The science of a Manhattan had to be adjusted a bit, Quam said, to bring the alcohol volume down and allow the ingredients to congeal. A little less whiskey, a little more vermouth, etc. According to him, the acceptable alcohol content caps off at about 14 percent if you want to “slushify” it.

“The idea was trying to bring out the memories of what we had as kids at like the 7-11, but with alcohol,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of putting fun back into what we do behind the bar.”

Last year, Quam said, sketchy skies meant sporadic rushes in the VIP area during the opening hour. This year, slow and steady won the race. Quam echoed the sentiment of many when he likened Hotlist to a family reunion.

It makes sense, though: Quam and his bar manager, Moxi, have 31 years in the business between them. Many of the people working around him tonight have been on teams with him at past restaurants. It was good to see ’em again.

“Of course we’re all here to do good,” he said, “but we can also look around and see all the other people who are interested in doing the good and the work.”

On the main floor, chefs and mix-masters were set behind their tables, samples laid out by the dozen. The walking path was wide, oval, akin to a roller rink. Visitors got their wristbands and stepped right onto the track.

Quam, Jason DeRusha, Lizzie B. of No Kid Hungry

Jason DeRusha, WCCO
Jason DeRusha leaned on a table outside of the building, feet crossed, talking with a couple of guys from Marin. With roughly an hour left, the Marin guys were out of food and on their way home. More contingents were closing up back in the pavilion. Tablecloths, once clean, were now “decorated” with crumbs and wet spots.

Meat sweats were starting to set in with the masses. The pavilion grounds’ outer benches were nearly all full. Some needed a smoke; others just needed to sit. DeRusha, meanwhile, looked as if the party just started. His hair wasn’t mussed and his hands were clean. Even his pocket square hadn’t gotten disheveled.

It was a good thing: he was a few minutes from stepping on stage to announce the night’s winners.

“[The participants] are all the nicest people in food,” he said. “This is like being at a party at a friend’s house.”

Jason DeRusha‘s food coverage on WCCO earned him a James Beard Award nomination last year to put on a crowded shelf of regional Emmy awards. His other hats include contributions to Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine, and serving as co-editor of Minnesota Monthly’s dining section.

If you were bored enough to wonder who the most powerful voice in the Twin Cities food scene is, DeRusha is solidly in that running … but you know what they say about power.

“It’s taken a little while for me to get my arms around the fact that, largely because of social media, what I say about restaurants does matter,” he said. “I just feel like I’m the same as anyone else with an opinion; but, because of my TV job, and now the social media aspect of it, that enough people have felt like they agree with it.”

DeRusha made his rounds and had a few standouts to mention, Saint Dinette and Marin among them, but Red Cow’s miniature lobster roll was one of the night’s surprises.

It was so good, a perfect bite for an event like this,” he said. “You can get too caught up on the nitty-gritty … really, it should be about what tastes good.”

Stephan Hesse celebrates Libertine’s victory.

Stephan Hesse, Libertine
I thought Libertine got robbed at last year’s event after hearing they’d tied for second place. Among those who disagreed were Libertine head chef Stephan Hesse.

“Every chef here is phenomenal,” he said. “To tie for second, that’s phenomenal.”

Hesse and his team brought beef tongue to this year’s event, and walked off with a cutting board trophy. The other, for best drinks, was taken by Tattersall.

Hesse’s team, and the two of us, were the last of the party. Almost every other station was bare and unmanned. One of his teammates dug into a cooler and began handing out Grain Belts. Victoria!

“I had a lot of people walk away from it, trust me,” he said. “Tongue’s got such a good flavor, people don’t realize something could be that good and be that weird.”

Under-utilized cuts are signature at Libertine — pig ears, pig tails, beef tongue, and shots from a bone are the norm in their Uptown abode. He consults with butchers, and has a butcher book from 1967 he delves into often — but sometimes, it’s a matter of buying five pounds of meat and seeing what it turns into.

“Even though the butcher or somebody is telling me I can’t do something,” he said, “I’m one of those guys who’ll be like ‘Screw you, I want to see if I can.’ I’ve got a lot of good guys I work with. They’re honest with me. I’ll make something and they’ll be like ‘Stephan, that sucks ass.’ I’m like ‘Okay, cool. How do you think I could do it so that doesn’t suck ass?’

“They give me inspiration and I kick back challenges for them. My sous chefs, my line guys, my dishwashers … If I can’t learn something from them, I quit.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was updated to reflect initial fund-raising figures as of June 28. No Kid Hungry’s website information was moved closer to the top.

Hola Arepa
Hola Arepa: So good, you won’t want to use silverware.
Ask the Tattersall guys for a drink and they’ll make you one. Ask the Tattersall guys for a spanking and they’ll make you two.
So Sophisticated
So I’m all,”I could be on TV,” then Matty O’Reilly sends me this pic and I’m like “Nope.”
Saint Dinette Maybe
Did Saint Dinette make this? I know I really enjoyed this, and I know Tim Niver was there …
They must've.
Yeah. They must’ve.


    • I’m pretty terrible at RSS, unfortunately. I’ve begun a Medium publication with all of these stories; so if you’re on there, you can just follow and get everything over there!

  1. Oysters and fondue. I can get behind both of those. Except I’d probably pick fondue because the ocean already has oysters, preemusably, and maybe I’d get lucky.

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