Main Event: Taste tests benefit children’s museum

December 20, 2017 GMT

It was a celebration of food and family at Chef’s Playground, a culinary event benefiting Minnesota Children’s Museum Rochester, Nov. 2 at the Rochester International Event Center.

More than 250 people attended the event and raised more than $70,000 to support the museum’s commitment to provide playful, experiential learning to families in the community. The museum welcomed more than 30,000 people through its doors last year.

The evening included a tasting reception, Chef’s auction, and both live and silent auctions.

Each of 10 chefs prepared an appetizer and an entrée for the tasting reception and judging. Awards were presented in three categories: Judges’ Choice Best Appetizer, Judges’ Choice Best Entrée, and Peoples’ Choice Best Dish.

The award for Best Appetizer went to Chris Hodapp, executive chef at Rochester International Event Center for the pork rillettes. The rillettes perched atop house made focaccia crostini, and topped with tomato jam and pickled apricots.

“It’s always fun at these events,” Hodapp said. “It’s about the freedom to be creative and showcase what we can do.”

The Judges’ Choice Best Entrée award went to the Rochester Golf and Country Club’s executive chefs Tony Pester and Bill Eisenmann for their sea salted tender ribeye.

The Peoples’ Choice Best Dish honor was awarded to Chef Erik Klevin, for Bleu Duck Kitchen’s maple and sausage bread dumpling.

Bleu Duck Kitchen was the only restaurant that presented a “breakfast for dinner” theme.

“This is a little out of the box,” said Mike Mathiason, line cook at the restaurant. “But that’s how we roll at the Bleu Duck.”

Chef’s Playground event chairwoman was Julie Domaille.

“My three grandchildren attend the children’s museum,” she said. “It’s a great thing. It’s all interactive play, fully inclusive. It met and exceeded my expectations.”

Domaille’s daughter, Amber Nelson, was head of the silent auction.

“The growth of the museum is really important for me,” Nelson said. “It’s geared toward more of the younger kids, so as mine grow, it will be great to have a bigger place.”

Renderings of various expansion plans were available for viewing at the event.

Loree Flick is a member of the board of directors at the museum.

“With the growing community, we need a bigger museum,” she said. Flick said the museum is fortunate to have a lot of local talent, as well as some great programs to teach yoga, nutrition, and science.

Attendees Claire and Rob Landgraf and Chris and Andrea Nelson are new parents and wanted to attend Chef’s Playground to learn more about the museum and to sample some new foods.

“We’re really excited to support the museum,” Claire Landgraf said. “Excited about using it and keeping it in the community.”

Both couples were looking forward to voting for their favorite dishes.

“We have a lot of great restaurants in Rochester,” Chris Nelson said. “This will be a stiff competition tonight.”

Chris Fierst attended the event with his friend Rebekah Nielsen.

“I came for the food,” Fierst said. “Somerby will be first on the list; the chef is talented. And I haven’t eaten all day.”

Carl Granberg, general manager of Rochester Golf and Country Club, attended the event with friend Cindy Ranfranz.

“It’s exciting to be part of this event,” Granberg said. “I am fairly new to this community. I haven’t been to many of the restaurants, so it will be good to do some sampling.”

Sean Malloy attended Chef’s Playground with colleagues from Midwest Floor Solutions, one of the event sponsors.

“My favorite part of the night is all the food,” he said. “But I especially like that the proceeds all go to the local children’s museum. This will definitely benefit the littles in this neighborhood.”