At first glance, it looked like an art installation. I was tentative as I leaned in toward the frames full of fish hooks, trying to figure out if they were actually edible, or…
Until a woman next to me unhooked some chocolate-dipped bacon as casually as if she were grabbing an olive, and it disappeared into her mouth. Following her lead, I wrangled a skewer of gherkin, gruyere and wild-rice sausage into my own, where a sour-salty-creamy party ensued. CRAVE Catering, from Bloomington, Minnesota, had put on this display, and they were clearly deft at combining flavor, beauty, and surprise.
There were several such Minneapolis moments during MPI’s World Education Congress, which I covered earlier this summer. The city is rife with transcendent food and drink, from the mundane (drippy, soul-warming falafel at Abdul’s Afandy) to the offbeat (an aperitif of jasmine-steeped dry vermouth and clarified grapefruit at The Bachelor Farmer). Yet three experiences stuck with me as especially astute when it comes to greeting, entertaining and feeding guests.
1. Locavore Welcome Plate
Upon arrival to my room at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, a gift was waiting: A slate board of Carr Valley Mobay cheese, sugar-and-vanilla-roasted apricots, spiced pecans, crackers, and a smear of grape-rhubarb-zinfandel jam. For a hungry lass who had just schlepped her bags across town, it was a godsend — especially the supple, tangy goat-and-sheep-milk cheese with its vein of ash, like a twist on Morbier. If every hotel greeted guests like this, we might never leave our rooms.
2. Those hanging charcuterie skewers.
I’m not sure how long it took to thread hundreds of pickled veggies, sausage slices, cheese wedges, and chocolate-covered bacon onto bamboo fish hooks — and then carefully hang them in vintage frames — but the masses at WEC’s opening night party (including me) were grateful for the effort. I thought I’d been around the hors d’oeuvre block, but CRAVE showed me that it’s still possible to be surprised.
3. A craft beer tasting.
Yes, there were wine, cocktails, and even pigs-in-blankets at the WEC closing party, which took place in sunken Peavey Plaza. But those took second-fiddle to the scene inside adjacent Orchestra Hall: A dozen or so craft brewers ringed the room pouring samples of their suds, from saisons to IPA to Scotch ale. Kudos to the MPI planner who decided to ignore the myth that women (who make up the majority of planners) don’t enjoy beer. Those planners were an enthusiastic (some might say rowdy) audience for the talented Minnesota craft brewers, who fielded dozens of outstretched glasses with calm and aplomb. Tastings of all stripes are usually fun affairs — but beer tastings deserve their own place in heaven.