The James Beard Awards: it’s a wrap
This little piggy went to the James Beard Awards, by which I mean this porcine ice carving (courtesy of chefs Alison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing of MiLa Restaurant in New Orleans) rather than myself.
Every year the James Beard Foundation honors food professionals in every field over a four-day bacchanal. It begins on a Friday night with a banquet to announce the winners in books, broadcast and journalism, continues with a large “Chef’s Night Out” party on Sunday night, and concludes with a gala at Lincoln Center where the chef and restaurateur awards are handed out. Along the way there are many ancillary events and a long evening of after-parties following the gala that rock New York dining rooms throughout the city.
I was there for most of it (I work on the committee that administers the journalism awards), though I have to admit my liver and I decided to sit out the after parties this year.
Here are some impressions and notes from the weekend:
- Big yays to Nathalie Dupree and Atlantan Cynthia Graubart for winning in the American cookbook category. The three finalists were all Southern cookbook authors, including chef Kevin Gillespie for his great first cookbook, “Fire in My Belly.” Further proof that Southern food is really having its moment in America.
- The winner of the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review award was Tejal Rao — a crackling new talent who writes for the Village Voice. You should check out some of her writing.
- The award for Outstanding Personality/Host on television went to the ever-entertaining Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods, America. The affable Zimmern as well as Martha Stewart showed up at both award ceremonies and all the parties to chat with friends and fans — two bona fide celebrities who happily work a room.
- André Prince Jeffries, owner of Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, gave the most memorable acceptance speech of the night, accepting an America’s Classics award, saying she never thought her life would “depend on the sacrifice of a chicken.”
- The Monday gala was as full as I’ve ever seen it, and the crush of pretty folk who descended on the many goodies handed out by top chefs from around the country.
- I didn’t make the rounds of every table, but my favorite bites at the gala were a) an acorn crepe filled with some kind of soft, delicious buffalo heart business prepared by Best Chef Northwest winner Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon; and b) a malted milk cake truffle prepared by Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York. Both had incredibly appetizing textures as well as memorable flavors.
- I drank this murky, kelp-filled liquid in the tanks on the left. It was called the “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” cocktail, and it came from Outstanding Bar Program winner The Aviary in Chicago. This is the bar owned by the Alinea folks, and you might recognize chef Grant Achatz on the right in this snapshot.
So, the drink tasted like seaweed, which gave it a lot of umami in an almost but not totally disturbing way. Better than the drink were the comments I heard from folks hovering near the table, such as:
“It looks like a prop from an early Nineties Nine Inch Nails video.”
“It looks like there should be a finger floating inside.”
To see the full list of winners, go here.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog