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Nov 04, 2015 • By

Celebrating the Twin Cities food scene

What do award-winning culinary chefs and restaurateurs have in common with a nearly 150-year-old global food company like General Mills?

More than you might think.

From Gold Medal Flour to Pillsbury dough, General Mills’ Convenience & Foodservice division provides key back-of-the-house ingredients for some of the nation’s most beloved menu items. As a company, we’ve also built a strong network of chefs and food influencers to keep a pulse on the latest food trends.

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“Our company purpose is ‘We serve the world by making food people love.’ I think many chefs and restaurateurs share a similar mantra,” says Susan Klobuchar, senior manager of food insights and content at General Mills. “There’s a lot we can learn from one another as we both make food with passion.”

This fall, General Mills is tapping into brilliant food minds in our very own backyard as a leading sponsor of the Twin Cities Charlie Awards. Now in its 5th year, the Charlie Awards are the most prestigious local dining awards that celebrate the exceptional contributions of the Twin Cities area restaurant, food and beverage industry.

“Many people don’t know about the incredible food mecca we have here. The restaurateurs and front – and back-of-the-house – restaurant staff who we honor at the Charlies are part of what make the Twin Cities great,” says Sue Zelickson, renowned Twin Cities’ writer, James Beard Award winner and founder of the Charlie Awards.

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The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has been regarded as one of the nation’s top emerging food scenes in recent years by the likes of USA Today, Zagat, Thrillist and more. With hundreds of new restaurants and breweries popping up across town every year, culinary experts from both coasts are looking to the Midwest for unique twists on food.

Leading up to the 2015 awards, the Charlie Awards hosted a series of panel discussions with local food-business owners and chefs to discuss “Hot Topics” in opening and running a successful restaurant.

Last week, I attended the third and final Hot Topics panel, hosted here at General Mills, on “the art and science of running a successful restaurant.” As you might imagine, I left the event hungry (pun intended) to explore the Twin Cities food scene further.

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Moderated by radio personality, B.T. Turner, the panel included Tracy Singleton, owner of Birchwood Café; Scott Foster, co-founder of Nova Restaurant Group; Pat Weber, owner of Mise en Place Consulting and instructor at the Minneapolis Art Institute; Jacob Toledo, co-owner of Jester Concepts; and several others.

In addition, our very own Nicklas Frölander, corporate innovation chef in the General Mills Culinary Center, participated in the panel.

From tips on operating a successful restaurant to the latest trends in food, discussion between the panelists covered a variety of themes.

Here are a few highlights I found especially inspiring:

Taste is king. Well, sometimes.

“Taste is king” is truth every player in the food industry can get behind. However, more and more we’ve seen that the people and the story behind that great taste are becoming equally as essential to consumers. Foster noted that for restaurant owners, the front-of-the-house is fundamental to your success. “People always come back to restaurants with great service and mediocre food, but they won’t come back for great food but horrible service,” he said.

Consider the community.

Community is deeply engrained in The Birchwood Café. Singleton said her mission for The Birchwood is “to serve good real food that is of the community and for the community.” As part of this mission, Tracy and her staff support sustainable organic farming, source ingredients locally and give back to its customers and neighbors.

Singleton added that she always considers this mission when making any business decision for the restaurant.

Trends start here.

Many new food trends are born in restaurants. Chefs have the unique opportunity to experiment with food, flavors and cooking techniques and gather real-time feedback from their customers.

General Mills’ Nicklas Frölander noted in an interview following the event, “There’s nothing new in food today. It’s just about putting your own spin on it to meet consumers’ changing taste buds and needs.”

“The biggest trend today is authenticity,” said Weber, on the topic of emerging food trends. He also called out trends like “fresh casual” being driven by food trucks and the importance of being ingredient-driven for customers who want the full story behind their food.

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“The passion and creativity from these chefs and restaurant owners is truly infectious,” says Susan. “There is endless opportunity for us to learn and draw inspiration from this community as we create products that delight consumers.”

Come celebrate all things food at the 2015 Charlie Awards on Sunday, Nov. 15 at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis. The event is open to the public and tickets are on-sale at CharliesExceptionale.com.

Editor’s note: Our Convenience & Foodservice division will once again hold its Neighborhood to Nation Recipe Contest, where independent restaurants can win prize money – for themselves and the charity of their choice. Entries will be accepted, starting Jan. 4, 2016. Learn more, here.

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