The tater tots were steaming, the cheddar cheese was bubbling, and Rep. Betty McCollum wasn’t there to breathe it in.
In the end, it didn’t matter. The St. Paul Democrat won the Minnesota Congressional Delegation Hotdish Competition from afar on Tuesday, even as she chaired a meeting of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee a few blocks away.
Her submission? A beef casserole infused with cream of mushroom soup and umami seasoning, topped with fried egg roll crumbles. She called it “Hotdish A-Hmong Friends” — a nod to her home district, which has one of the largest Hmong communities in the United States.
The annual event is both a hard-fought cook-off and a tribute to Minnesota’s culinary claim to fame. Start with some thrifty ingredients, throw in some comfort food vibes, dump on a can of fried onions, and you have yourself a hotdish.
Watch: Tina Smith pays tribute to Heard on the Hill in annual Minnesota hotdish competition
“Where’s my competition?” teased freshman Rep. Angie Craig as she arrived on the scene.
Presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar was the center of attention as she tore the foil from an overflowing glass dish. A pack of onlookers — including the congressional aides who had probably stayed up late cooking the night before — leaned in to watch.
The scent of starchy goodness rose in the air, to murmurs of approval.
Of course, it was barely past noon — a little early for hearty eating, but definitely not for food-related puns.
Klobuchar’s “Final Four Layer Hotdish” paid homage to taco seasoning, enchilada sauce and college basketball. The Minnesota Democrat has landed the top hotdish prize before, but this time she went home empty-handed.
Not so Rep. Ilhan Omar, who won second place with her “Little Moga-Hot-Dishu.” In third place was Rep. Dean Phillips, completing the Democratic sweep with “From Monrovia with Love,” inspired by Liberian cuisine.
If there had been an award for most fashionable apron, Rep. Jim Hagedorn would have been a shoo-in. The Republican wore his “Bacon County USA” cooking gear in honor of Minnesota’s Martin County, a top pork producer.
“I picked some hotdish from all the participants,” he said as he surveyed the offerings on his plate. “I don’t even know which one is which.”
Smith’s hotdish, named “Herd on the Hill,” was our personal favorite — for unbiased reasons, of course.
One of the largest Hmong communities in the U.S. is in MN’s 4th Congressional District. I’m so excited that my “Hotdish A-Hmong Friends” recipe took first place today in the 9th annual MN Congressional Delegation Hotdish Competition! pic.twitter.com/mdI6iTzck9— Rep. Betty McCollum (@BettyMcCollum04) April 9, 2019