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Jon Radle surprised many people when he won the grand prize at the 2009 Twin Cities Food & Wine Experience's Local Chef Challenge with his dish of seared scallops with Brussels sprouts, bacon and white fig reduction. The upset win against stiff competition was a triumph for a chef whose culinary career would have seemed far-fetched as a child, when diverse fare was not his favorite.

"He was a picky eater and I'd tell him, 'Just try it,'" said his mother, Diane, of Hudson, Wis. In the past few years, "he'd come and try [cooking] meals at home and tell me 'Just try it.' He introduced me to different flavors and he always wanted things to taste perfect and look perfect."

Radle was executive chef at Grand Cafe in south Minneapolis. He was 30 when he died unexpectedly Saturday.

Radle developed his artistic flair as a teen who starred in theatrical productions at the Phipps Center in Hudson and sang in the Hudson High School choir. He worked as a busboy and line cook at a Perkins restaurant and in the University of Minnesota-Duluth food service. After his third year of college, he told his parents he wanted to go to culinary school, and earned a degree from the Art Institutes International Minnesota in Minneapolis.

He worked at the Chickadee Cottage Restaurant in Woodbury and then at San Pedro Cafe in Hudson. It was there he exhibited passion for his craft and showed natural talent, said co-owner Rob Knefelkamp.

Radle cooked at the California Cafe in the Mall of America, Bayport Cookery, Solera and La Belle Vie and was a sous-chef at the former Auriga in Minneapolis.

"He was an amazing cook with a special touch," said Auriga owner Doug Flicker. "He could balance flavors and depths of flavors and translate that into a plate. He put his heart and soul into the food."

Humble and compassionate, Radle was a serious cook who also was a prankster in the kitchen, where he spent long hours creating elegant meals and a brunch menu as executive chef for the past three years at Grand Cafe, which was named one of the nation's 10 best spots for Sunday brunch in the May 2009 edition of Bon Appetit magazine.

"Jon's unpretentious style and enthusiastic love of food and cooking infused the cafe with a warm and welcoming air," said Grand Cafe owners Dan and Mary Hunter in a statement.

"Food was an art for him," said Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, senior food editor at Minnesota Monthly, which sponsored the chef challenge that Radle won in 2009. "His great ability was to edit and refine. He was talented and sensitive to the nuances of cooking, and he always understood the diner's experience."

While cooking consumed most of his time, Radle did enjoy golf, backpacking, mountain biking and just being outdoors, his mother said.

In addition to his mother, Radle is survived by his father, Steve, of Hudson; and a brother, Jeff, of Two Harbors, Minn. Services have been held.