NEW YORK — The James Beard Awards stayed true to this year’s theme of the global melting pot and passed out its top awards to a number of American chefs who made their mark interpreting international flavors. Among the regional chef winners were Andy Ricker of Pok Pok in Portland, Ore., who serves northern Thai cuisine, and Tyson Cole, whose Austin, Texas, sushi bar, Uchi, is considered among the best in the country.
Michael Solomonov of Philadelphia’s Zahav won for his creative Israeli fare, while Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas ascended the stage in Lincoln Center with her palms pressed together in the traditional wai greeting of Thailand and had her English-speaking daughter read an acceptance speech.
But the awards did not smile on Georgia’s culinary talent this year as often as in years past. Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta and Hugh Acheson of Five and Ten in Athens — both perennial nominees — were bested in the award for best chef of the Southeast by Andrea Reusing, whose Chapel Hill, N.C., restaurant, Lantern, interprets Asian flavors with local, seasonal ingredients.
“If you look at my shoes you can tell I wasn’t expecting this, ” said a flustered but gracious Reusing, adding, “To be nominated in this group of amazing nominees is the real honor.”
Another notable trend this year was the preeminence of so many female chefs and restaurateurs winning awards.
Among them was Gabrielle Hamilton, named best chef New York City for her restaurant Prune. It’s a big year for Hamilton, whose memoir, “Blood, Bones & Butter, ” has been getting rave reviews.
The three-hour ceremony at Lincoln Center — and then the rush to several dozen food and drink tables set up in the lobby — was the centerpiece of the long James Beard weekend in New York. Seemingly every major restaurant turned into a scene of hard-core, standing-on-tables, beer-soaked, booty-shaking partying.
The festivities began Friday night with the book and journalism awards dinner, during which two Georgians came home with the coveted bronze medallions embossed with the image of James Beard’s face. Alton Brown won for best TV food personality/host for his soon-to-end show “Good Eats” on the Food Network, while writer Tom Junod took home the award for best essay for his Esquire magazine piece, “My Mom Couldn’t Cook.”
The big news of the night was when the Twitter alias Ruth Bourdain — a foul-mouthed and hilarious mashup of poetic Ruth Reichl and irreverent Anthony Bourdain — won in the humor category. People were waiting to see who or what might come up to the stage to accept the award. But after some thumb twiddling, the award went unclaimed.
The other big news was that the journalism committee presented the first award for publication of the year to Edible Communities Publications — the fast-growing group of 70-some magazines that provide hyper-local content about farmers, food artisans and policymakers who are trying to make a difference in the food system. As a member of the journalism committee, I had the honor of presenting the award.
While there were many parties going on throughout the city, the big, official one was the “Chefs Night Out” at Chelsea Market — a kind of high-end food gourmet mall that is also the home to the Food Network studios. Television personality Bobby Flay played doorman.
On Sunday, the black-tie gala at Lincoln Center attracted seemingly every food personality in America, from Jacques Pepin to Andrew Zimmern. In addition to the regional awards noted above, medals went to leaders on the national level. Jose Andres — who has a mini-empire of top-end Washington restaurants — was named outstanding chef; New York’s Eleven Madison Park got the nod for outstanding restaurant; and New York’s ABC Kitchen was crowned best new restaurant.
Hungry attendees literally lunged for the tables afterward. Great bites included truffled brioche from famed French chef Guy Savoy and octopus carpaccio from Pano Karatassos of Kyma in Atlanta.
Then the real madness started. I joined a group that landed at the Modern, where wine director Belinda Chang was celebrating her win for best wine service.
After some champagne and cheese, I ended up in the massive rock-out at Eleven Madison Park where much of New York’s restaurant community went to party like it’s 1999.
People were literally soaked with beer and dancing on tables at this grand four-star restaurant. At one point a sipping flask of bourbon made it my way, and I discovered it had come from the breast pocket of master distiller Julian Van Winkle III himself, a winner for outstanding wine and spirits professional.
I took a long drag and contemplated the next party.