The Great Northern aims to make winter in Minnesota cool

An exclusive outdoor dining experience with chefs Paul Berglund and Gavin Kaysen is among the events featured in The Great Northern festival.

Diners who have forked out $400 will sit down for dinner cooked by two acclaimed Twin Cities chefs on Monday, but they won't be in a restaurant.

They will be sitting out in the freezing winter surrounded by blazing fires, on a downtown Minneapolis street closed for the most exclusive event of the otherwise inclusive The Great Northern festival – celebrating everything that's so gosh darn great about Minnesota.

Under the guidance of a leadership team that includes former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, and North Loop entrepreneur Eric Dayton, The Great Northern stamps a new identity on the wintry festivities that take place in the Twin Cities every January and February.

Dayton told GoMN the longterm aim is to make the Twin Cities and Minnesota as much of a destination during the winter as it is during warmer seasons, turning the frigid cold into "an asset instead of a liability."

Traditional events like the historic St. Paul Winter Carnival, the U.S. Pond Hockey tournament, the Winter Beer Dabbler and The Loppet are being brought together. No longer standalone events, they now have a collective identity under the The Great Northern banner.

Joining the lineup are a number of new events for foodies and art lovers, including the aforementioned "Winter Table," an exclusive, $395-a-head, seven-course dinner prepared by The Bachelor Farmer's Paul Berglund and Spoon and Stable's Gavin Kaysen.

In what Dayton believes is a first in the city, a block of North 1st St. in the Warehouse District will be closed off to make way for tables, illuminations and bonfires as parka-donning diners brave the elements and chow down on what Dayton describes as a "primal style" of cooking.

Festival is wrapped in northern identity

Eric Dayton has been one of the driving forces behind the idea of rebranding Minnesota as "The North" of the U.S., arguing that its Nordic culture, rugged outdoors and frigid weather differentiate it from the rest of the Midwest.

"The Great Northern is the evolution of that idea," according to Dayton, who says that the events running during the festival are deeply rooted in Minnesotan tradition.

"This is what we have always done, these are our strengths and we're shining a light on what makes Minnesota incredible, special and unique," he told GoMN.

The Great Northern "embodies some of the very qualities," he says, pointing to the Minnesotan way of life spending time in the great outdoors, no matter the time of year, not to mention the Twin Cities increasingly acclaimed dining scene and strong artistic community.

"These are the things we're bringing together and it's a really unique combination at this time of year," he says.

"When you ask someone about Minnesota the first thing they'll think of is the cold winters – let's turn that into an asset rather than a liability."

What's happening

Things really kick off on Thursday, when the St. Paul Winter Carnival gets underway at Rice Park and the U.S. Pond Hockey Tournament starts at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis.

The Twin Cities Jazz Festival will be held at various locations in St. Paul this weekend, and more information can be found here.

On Sunday, Minneapolis French bistro Barbette will host art installations presented by Northern Lights.mn, which will see light-based art projected onto custom ice walls starting at 4:30 p.m. at the Uptown eatery.

The Winter Table on Monday is one of three "signature dinners" during The Great Northern taking place next week.

On Tuesday, the "Lowertown Feast" at St. Paul Farmer's Market will have chefs from Corner Table/Revival and Saint Dinette serving flame-cooked, French-Canadian-inspired food.

And on Wednesday, the Surly Brewer's Table and Heirloom have put together a "Kraftskivan" crayfish party at the Surly Beer Garden in northeast Minneapolis, which includes the "debut of the nation's first community-owned mobile sauna."

Other events planned for next week include a Frozen Film Festival, before The Loppet and the Winter Beer Dabbler take over next weekend.

You can find a full list of The Great Northern events here.

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