It was a packed house at RiverCentre in St. Paul on Saturday night, when football and food merged at the Taste of the NFL, a hunger-relief fundraiser that drew luminaries as varied as former Viking Ben Leber and Cara Mund, 2018 Miss America.
Now in its 27th year — the first one took place the last time the Twin Cities hosted the Super Bowl, in 1992 — the gala event has raised more than $25 million for food banks across the United States, including local recipient Second Harvest Heartland.
Organized by Franklin Street Bakery co-owner Wayne Kostroski, the party brings together top chefs from each of the NFL’s 32 cities, pairing them with notable players — past and present — from those teams. Hungry souvenir- and selfie-seekers paid $700 to $1,000 to walk through the door, and the event sold out.
Chef Carrie Nahabedian of Naha in Chicago was appearing at her ninth Taste of the NFL, and prepared a dessert for the second time, a chocolate bread pudding studded with Wisconsin-made Nueske’s bacon. “It’s warm and tantalizing because it’s cold outside,” she said.
Thomas Boemer, chef/co-owner of Corner Table and Revival, was also cooking for the chilly temperature, serving a fancy (and delicious) version of chicken and wild rice hot dish, ideal Minnesota comfort food on a cold winter’s night.
Other notable dishes? A chile-braised lamb served over creamy jalapeño-fueled grits by Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun’s in Atlanta, and coffee-cured pork belly with pickled quince and crunchy hazelnuts from Justin Aprahamian of Sanford Restaurant in Milwaukee.
Aprahamian has been a regular since 2012. “It’s the cause, first and foremost,” he said. “This group of chefs and players, it’s like a family. And Wayne’s energy is inspiring.”
High school students from around the state helped serve the restaurant fare, including Dina Thoresen of St. Paul, a sophomore at Como Park Senior High. She was among the 83 student volunteers from ProStart, a two-year culinary program offered at more than 40 Minnesota high schools.