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Minneapolis’ Christina Nguyen wins Best Chef in Midwest at 2024 James Beard awards

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Minneapolis’ Christina Nguyen wins Best Chef in Midwest at 2024 James Beard awards


Minnesota’s Christina Nguyen won “Best Chef: Midwest” in the 2024 James Beard awards on Monday evening in Chicago.

Nguyen won specifically for her northeast Minneapolis restaurant Hai Hai, which puts an unforgettable twist on Southeast Asian cuisine. She also runs the Venezuelan street food hot spot Hola Arepa in south Minneapolis.

More than 100 restaurants were finalists across 22 categories for the culinary world’s equivalent of the Oscars with diverse range of cuisine and chef experience, a recent shift following turbulent, pandemic-era years for the James Beard Foundation. Just being a finalist can bring wide recognition and boost business. The most anticipated categories included awards for outstanding restaurateur, chef and restaurant.

Michael Rafidi, whose Washington, D.C., restaurant Albi was awarded a coveted Michelin Star in 2022, won outstanding chef among five finalists. Albi, which is Arabic for “my heart,” pays homage to Rafidi’s Palestinian roots by using Old World food preparation techniques. Everything is cooked over charcoal, including grape leaves stuffed with lamb and sfeeha, a meat pie.

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“This is for Palestine and all the Palestinian people out there,” Rafidi told The Associated Press after winning the award. Rafidi, who wore a traditional black and white checkered keffiyeh, said he kept thinking of his Palestinian grandfather, who was also a chef, and how he paved the way for him.  

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Christina Nguyen cooks water fern cakes at Hai Hai

WCCO


Restaurants apply for the awards. Judges, who mostly remain anonymous, try the cuisine before voting. Nominees are reviewed for the food as well as for a behavioral code of ethics, including how employees are treated. On Monday, winners announced at the Lyric Opera of Chicago venue were given engraved medallions.

The award for best new restaurant went to Dakar NOLA, a Senegalese restaurant in New Orleans.

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“I always knew that West Africa has something to say,” said chef Serigne Mbaye. “That kept me going.”

The James Beard Foundation has bestowed awards since 1991, except in 2020 and 2021 when the organization scrapped them as the restaurant industry was reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. The foundation was also facing criticism over a lack of racial diversity and allegations about some nominees’ behavior. Foundation officials vowed to improve ethical standards and be more “reflective of the industry.”

An upscale Thai restaurant that uses Pacific Northwest ingredients, Langbaan won outstanding restaurant, while Chicago restaurant Lula Cafe, a bistro that opened in 1999 on the city’s North Side, won an award for outstanding hospitality.

Erika and Kelly Whitaker, a Colorado couple, won outstanding restauranteur.

Their Id Est Hospitality Group runs several Colorado restaurants including The Wolf’s Tailor, which serves wild game like smoked venison. Their restaurants have a focus on zero waste and sustainability practices.

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“We don’t particularly chase these awards,” Kelly Whitaker said. “But we definitely chase the platform this brings.”

NOTE: The original airdate of the video attached to this article is May 23, 2024. 



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Minneapolis, MN

Utility regulators hosted annual conference in Minneapolis with money from entities they oversee

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Utility regulators hosted annual conference in Minneapolis with money from entities they oversee


Minnesota’s utility regulators hosted a record more than 600 people in downtown Minneapolis last week for an annual regional conference, but some of the sponsors helping to pay for the event are also at the whim of the regulators’ rulings.

That financial relationship at the center of the Mid-America Regulatory Conference (MARC) has some energy advocacy groups feeling uneasy about what they worry is a conflict of interest. But the lead organizer of this year’s event, Katie Sieben, the DFL chair of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), argued the gathering helps commissioners foster connection and make stronger decisions, not blur the lines between government and business.

This year, most of the sponsors for the conference that wrapped last week either have regular business before the PUC, participate in major cases or represent those that do. That includes: unions; trade groups for power developers; trade groups that represent electric and gas companies; prominent local environmental nonprofits; and several law firms that help businesses navigate the regulatory system.

“It creates an optics and public trust issue that could be particularly damaging to commissions that are doing their jobs in good faith and trying to invite diverse voices to the table as the Minnesota PUC has begun to do,” said Karlee Weinmann, a Minnesota-based researcher for the national advocacy group Energy and Policy Institute that is broadly critical of influence from utilities and fossil fuel interests. “It gives the impression that access can be bought.”

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Sponsorships are commonplace for MARC and other utility regulator associations but still periodically draw criticism, including MARC’s event last year in Michigan.

Sieben, however, said she deliberately worked to highlight voices from tribes, unions, diversity and equity advocates and consumer groups during the four-day Minneapolis conference, which MARC has put on since the 1950s. She said the conference broke no ethics rules and it is good for regulators to meet during an “increasingly complex” energy transition.

“Our access as regulators is not for sale,” Sieben said. “I stand by the decisions that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission have made since I’ve been the chair of the commission, and the public interest is always what we’re striving for, and I think that we have protected and will continue to protect [it].”

Big spenders

Top sponsors in Minneapolis were Google, regulatory consulting firm AESL and three unions: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49. Each chipped in at least $20,000, though there were sponsorships as low as $1,500. Signage on booths, TV displays, hotel key cards and flower arrangements promoted sponsors around the Renaissance Hotel.

MARC bans entities it directly regulates from sponsoring the event, including utility companies such as Xcel Energy or CenterPoint Energy in Minnesota since the PUC oversees their rates and business. Trade groups representing utility companies were sponsors, however, including Edison Electric Institute and the American Gas Association.

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Kevin Pranis, marketing manager for LIUNA in Minnesota, said “MARC provided a unique opportunity to show other states what organized labor can contribute, and that’s why you saw so many unions step forward. We’re ready to be at the table and tired of being on the menu.”

Beyond sponsors, MARC’s other income comes from registration fees for the event, which top out at $775 for the general rate. Minnesota’s biggest electric and gas utilities had several people sign up for the conference — registrations that would add up to thousands of dollars — as did environmental groups, energy developers and state officials.

MARC, made up of utility regulators in 14 states from Minnesota to Texas, rotates its annual conference among member states. The event is the nonprofit’s moneymaker, bringing in a net profit of $92,480 last year and $103,350 in 2022.

That cash funds the conference itself, as well as other basics like audits and the salary of a part-time executive coordinator. It also pays for travel stipends — $500 this year — for commissioners to attend the conference.

MARC also covers travel, hotels and food for members who attend a commissioners-only meeting typically held in January in warm-weather states such as Texas or Oklahoma. In Houston this year, the stipend was up to $1,000. Sieben said MARC tends to prioritize cities with direct flights and less risk of disruptive winter storms. MARC also sometimes pays for commissioners to attend trainings on utility rates.

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Coming together

The Minneapolis conference included substantive panels on energy topics such as electrifying transportation, data centers, the Inflation Reduction Act, building a workforce, equity and affordability. This year, panels featured regulators from the state and federal level, utility executives and industry leaders, including Xcel President Ryan Long, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and Lower Sioux Indian Community President Robert Larsen.

MARC organized tours of big or notable energy facilities. And there was entertainment, including a walking tour of downtown Minneapolis, a Minnesota Twins game and a reception with food and drinks that LIUNA hosted and featured Sieben.

Weinmann, helping a consumer advocate group in a case about Xcel gas rates at the PUC, said it’s helpful for regulators to be on the cutting edge of hard topics during a challenging transition away from fossil fuels. She also said Minnesota is better than other commissions in being more inclusive of underrepresented voices in debates about utility rates and power projects.

Larsen praised the PUC’s steps to work with tribes during a keynote panel for the event. Sieben said it was good for other states to hear about how Minnesota incorporates tribal voices and other perspectives, such as an Xcel foreman who spoke on a panel about the benefits of the company’s massive Becker solar project as the huge coal plant next door retires.

Pranis also said the the PUC is “increasingly recognized as a national leader in efforts to bring the priorities and voices of working families into regulatory decisions that have historically been dominated by energy companies and environmental advocates.”

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Still, John Farrell, a critic of the regulated monopoly system for power companies and co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said not everyone has the opportunity to be high-level financial sponsors for events like MARC. Weinmann said state legislators could approve more funding to cover events with utility regulators.

Donors are “getting decisions that are the basis for whether or not their business is successful or not, and here they are having a financial relationship with their regulators outside of that,” Farrell said. “It’s really bothersome.”



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Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis police:

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Minneapolis police:


MINNEAPOLIS — It was a chaotic scene in Dinkytown around midnight Monday with fireworks being shot off in the street.

Some of the people responsible came right up to a WCCO camera to brag about it.

“Just f***ed with the whole city,” one young person said while his face was covered. “Threw fireworks all over the place. Look at my fingers, burnt from the fireworks.”

Another young person said, “The fireworks are not for people. They’re just for fun. We’re not trying to hurt nobody.”

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Nobody was hurt, and, in fact, Minneapolis police told WCCO there were “a few reports regarding fireworks, but…nothing substantial to report.”

Officers from the city and the University of Minnesota blocked roads but didn’t appear to try to disperse any of the crowds when a WCCO camera was there.

One officer shook hands with one of the teens, smiling.

“They literally didn’t do anything,” said Nina Snowise, who works at Frank and Andrea Pizza in Dinkytown and also lives nearby.

Snowise says fireworks displays like this weekend’s happen a lot near the well-known restaurant.

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She says Frank and Andrea has hired security on weekends and no longer let minors in past 11 p.m.

“It’s just uncomfortable because you don’t know it’s a firework unless you see the fireworks,” Snowise said. “Last night, I knew they were fireworks, I saw the lights, but the other times I’ve heard them, I’m like, ‘That’s a really loud bang. What the hell was that?’ It just doesn’t feel safe to be around here at night when all that’s going on.”

In March, UMPD Chief Matt Clark shared a plan for a Dinkytown safety center, which would be like a hub for police, community and students.

Clark told the University of Minnesota Board of Regents at the time, “There’s a reduction in crime, but there’s also a need to increase our safety education, resources and engagement.”

Minneapolis police report the number of robberies and assaults in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood near campus are similar to last year but vandalism and thefts are up.

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Minneapolis, MN

Prince Celebration Event 2024 | KOOL 108 | Jun 22nd, 2024 | Prince Mural Downtown Minneapolis

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Prince Celebration Event 2024 | KOOL 108 | Jun 22nd, 2024 | Prince Mural Downtown Minneapolis


Attention all Prince Fans! Get ready to paint the town purple as we honor our hometown hero, the incredible Prince! Join us both, downtown Minneapolis and at Paisley Park for a spectacular celebration of his life and the 40th Anniversary of the legendary ‘Purple Rain’!

Tickets are on sale NOW! Whether you’re looking for full access, a single day pass or a special concert ticket, we’ve got you covered.

AND don’t miss out on the FREE Block Party Saturday June 22nd, right in the heart of Downtown Minneapolis at the Prince Mural. Come dressed in your finest purple and celebrate with us!

Mark your calendars and visit paisleypark.com/celebration-2024 to secure your spot.

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Let’s celebrate Prince’s legacy together!





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