Uptown Art Fair adds food to its artistic lineup

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The Uptown Art Fair Kitchen Window 1st Annual Culinary Arts Competition

This year the Uptown Art Fair added culinary art to its list of artistic genres by staging a live, onstage culinary competition. Chefs from around the Twin Cities were paired with local artists and tasked with creating dishes and artistic pieces based on a selected basket of ingredients.

As a judge for this year's event, I was asked to grade both the dishes and the art presented by the local artists in the first round on Friday and in the semifinals and finals on Sunday.

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Barbette chef Sarah Master for the win!
The chefs and artists had to incorporate rice, chocolate, and beer into their dishes and artwork. In addition, chefs were given a last-minute secret ingredient that also had to be worked into the dishes and the art. The secret ingredients included peaches, beets, coffee, and coconut. 

The event included 24 total competitors: 12 artists and 12 chefs from restaurants such as Barbette, Birdhouse, Oceanaire, El Meson, Trygs, and Old Chicago.

Over the three days of the art festival, chefs went head to head competing for the highest number of points. On Friday and Saturday, the two highest-scoring chefs moved on to the semifinals. From there, the chefs duked it out until only one was left standing.

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The winning dish
In the end, it was Barbette's chef Sarah Master who took first place with her immensely flavorful and well-balanced steak dish. The plate included savory rice and English pea beignets (which contained the beer and coconut components), and everything was served with a side of peppery greens dressed in a chocolate vinaigrette. The steak was simply seasoned and pan roasted with thyme and butter. The dish was relatively simple in its constructruction, but the masterfully balanced flavors all worked harmoniously.

The art piece that went along with Master's dish was a photograph of a sculpture done by local artist Rebecca Phan-Tretter. Phan-Tretter put together a quick sculpture using the required ingredients, photographed it, edited it, and printed it out all on site. The piece was a representation of a Minnesota-style cookout, complete with a bottle of Shell's beer.

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Second-place chef Ben Mauk and local artist Paul Gill
Finishing in an extremely close second place, the newly established Birdhouse chef Ben Mauk put together a fantastic dish composed of thinly sliced steak pearched atop a rice patty with a mushroom ragu and chocolate sauce. In the end, the chocolate came off a little strong, knocking out some of the more delicate flavors in the dish.

Some of the other dishes and their components in the competition included chocolate and beet risotto, chicken coconut curry, beer caramel sauce, wild rice and beer crepes, and a chicken breast with chocolate sauce. The dishes were rated on a 1 to 10 scale in nine categories. 

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The winning team: Chef Sarah Master and photographer Rebecca Phan-Tretter
It's not certain if the competition will return for a second year, but the addition of a culinary arts competition to the art fair turned out to be a good deal of fun for fairgoers and at times drew  substantial crowds.

For more information and photos, visit the Kitchen Window Facebook page. Recipes from the event will also be posted on the official Uptown Art Fair web page

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The winning photo complete with original scuplture

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