The competition was tough at the sixth annual Hotdish Off, which the host, Sen. Al Franken, said has become “a monster.” But it wasn’t the tastes that took the prizes, it was the titles.
The Minnesota Democrat looked down at Rep. Keith Ellison's "Chicken and Rice Hotdish" topped with Prince’s love symbol logo and renamed it “The Casserole Formerly Known as Hotdish,” which elicited calls of “Too soon!” from the crowd.
Ten hotdishes , Minnesota’s version of a casserole, were made by the 10 members of the state's congressional delegation and judged by three food experts, all Minnesota natives: Tom Sietsema, food critic for The Washington Post; his mother, Dorothy Sietsema; and Ryan Jensen, founder and owner of Peregrine Espresso.
This year's winning dish was “Tim’s Turkey Taco Tot Hotdish” by Rep. Tim Walz. Last year's winner , Rep. Betty McCollum, had to settle for second place for her “Making Hotdish Great Again.”
Awarded an engraved casserole dish for top honors, Walz revealed his secret weapon: his staff.
“Thank you to my staff who are wonderful cooks,” he said.
“I feel neglected again,” said Rep. Rick Nolan. “Blame Walz,” Franken replied.
After the judges ate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar was the first to dig in before Franken announced a group photo. The comedian-turned-senator joked with his colleagues that everyone’s heads had to move 15 degrees after every photo so the many photographers in the room could all get a different picture.
“Everyone thought 15 degrees was different,” he said.
The recipes and clever titles were displayed in front of each dish which the audience got to sample.
“I think there should be more of this around this place,” Franken said, calling it a “bonding experience ” for the delegation.
The senator started the competition in 2011 not just to celebrate a Minnesota culinary tradition, but to get his colleagues together. Franken hasn’t won since 2012, when he made “Mom's Mahnomin Madness Hotdish” to tie for first place with former Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack.
His entry this year was titled, "Land of 10,000 Calories Hotdish," a play on one of the state's nicknames. While the competition is usually held in the winter , it was postponed from its original March 16 date because it overlapped with President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Franken and Klobuchar attended the announcement ceremony at the White House.