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MNfusion: Uptown Art Fair Introduces Amateur Chef Contest

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) –At over 50 years, the Uptown Art Fair could be considered "over the hill," but this vibrant festival is far from being behind the times.Each year to keep visitors engaged the fair introduces a number of new events.

For its 52nd year it is hosting an amateur chef contest.

The Fish Smart Seafood Stakes will take place at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8. It will outside of Kitchen Window, located at 3001 Hennepin Ave.

"One of our previous sponsors, Fish Mart, said they wanted to be involved," Uptown Association Executive Director Maude Lovelle said. "So, we got together and brainstormed and said, 'How can we use this fantastic company and add to the culinary station?' And that's how the idea of the home cook surfaced."

Hosted during the Culinary Arts Competition, the Fish Smart Seafood Stakes pits two home cooks against one another in a 30 minute cooking competition. The cooks must prepare a dish using sustainable seafood and a secret ingredient chosen by The Wedge.

Each cook is paired with a professional chef from The Oceanaire Seafood Room to act as a mentor during the competition.

At the end of 30 minutes, each dish is then judged by a panel of seafood experts on its design, composition and, of course, taste. The winning chef will receive a four-pack of tickets to the Minnesota Zoo and a gift certificate to a Kitchen Window Cooking class.

Uptown Art Fair Culinary Arts Competition
(credit: Uptown Art Fair)

While home cooks are new, the Culinary Arts Competition has been featured at the art fair for four years. Each year, Lovelle said that this portion of the fair has grown in leaps and bounds. So, with a willing sponsor and a growing attraction, it seemed a no brainer to introduce a new element.

"Home cooks are getting a lot of attention as being phenomenal culinary artists in their own right," Lovelle said. "I think that people find it very exciting to actually see people start with nothing and create an end product."

To be chosen, the cooks must submit an essay on why they think they would make a good contestant. The final competitors are then chosen by a group made up of a representative from the Minnesota Zoo, the Uptown Association and one of the fair's culinary partners.

In addition to their skills in the kitchen, Lovelle said the team is also looking for those cooks with engaging personalities.

"Obviously the person not only needs to be a somewhat talented cook because they are going to be displayed, but also [they need to be] somewhat of a personality," Lovelle said. "Just like on the TV shows, during the sessions when they are cooking they are also talking and making jokes. So, it has to be somebody with that dual skill."

The judges must also submit an essay to be considered for the panel. For the inaugural contest, Lovelle said experts range from food bloggers to representatives of food organizations to restaurateurs.

While this new attraction is taking place during the festival, the Uptown Association showcased another new element before the fair even opens.

In June, the Uptown Association asked neighborhood businesses to decorate one-gallon paint cans as a homage to the 30 foot tall paint cans that have marked the entrance of the fair for more than 40 years.

They called it "CANvas Uptown."

CANvas Group
(credit: Uptown Art Fair)

The initiative was organized to generate buzz before, during and after the fair.

Lovelle said the association anticipated few participants. But as of July 31, 162 cans around the entire metro area had been decorated.

"We're very, very happy," Lovelle said. "Not only does it show different forms of art but it also promotes our event and shows the enthusiasm that people have for our event."

Visitors, or those interested in the cans, can view all 162 online. The Uptown Association will auction off the paint cans through Aug. 12. All proceeds from the auction will go to create a neighborhood art project in Uptown.

The Uptown Art Fair begins at noon on Friday, Aug. It runs through Sunday, Aug. 9. For more information on events at the Uptown Art Fair, visit them online.

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