The Oscars of the food world had its 25th-anniversary blowout on Monday in New York City. Here's what happened.
A red carpet, celebrities, a seemingly endless program, the year's best party food, bottomless champagne and a well-dressed crowd glued to their Twitter accounts. Yep, it was the 25th annual James Beard Foundation Awards, held Monday evening in New York City to celebrate excellence and achievement in the American culinary arts.
It was refreshing -- and encouraging -- to see so many female faces in the 2012 winner's circle. The Outstanding Restaurant award went to Boulevard in San Francisco, and its chef/co-owner Nancy Oakes. Mindy Segal of Mindy's HotChocolate in Chicago was named Outstanding Pastry Chef. Cat Silirie, wine director of Boston's No. 9 Park (owned by chef Barbara Lynch), accepted the award for Outstanding Wine Program. And the Rising Star Chef of the Year, which recognizes culinary talent under age 30, went to Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City.
The Year of the Woman streak ended when Daniel Humm of the extraordinary Eleven Madison Park in New York City took the evening's top honor, that of Outstanding Chef. His competition included Nancy Silverton of Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, although Silverton got her due earlier in the evening from colleague Matt Molina, who was named Best Chef: Pacific. He thanked Silverton in his acceptance speech, calling her, "The priestess of all that is delicious."
The Beards divvy up the country into 10 regions and bestow a Best Chef award in each. Tory Miller, chef/co-owner of L'Etoile in Madison, Wis., was named Best Chef: Midwest, beating out nominees in Milwaukee, St. Louis and Kansas City, as well as three-time nominee Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul.
"I just ran over Jacques Pépin on my way up here" is what an excited Miller (who was first nominated in 2011) uttered when he reached the podium. He then expressed gratitude to the many farmers who supply his landmark restaurant, one of the nation's first farm-to-table establishments. "I don't know how to cook without your food," he said.
Chicago basked in the spotlight. Chef Charlie Trotter, who is closing his eponymous 25-year-old restaurant in August, was named Humanitarian of the Year. Next, chef Grant Achatz's aptly named follow-up to his universally acclaimed Alinea, won Best New Restaurant Honors; Achatz was also inducted into the foundation's Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America. The previously mentioned Outstanding Pastry Chef medallion was handed to Mindy Segal of Mindy's HotChocolate, the sweet/savory destination in the city's Bucktown neighborhood, and the Best Chef: Great Lakes title went to Bruce Sherman of North Pond, a locavore beauty located in the middle of Lincoln Park. Sherman and Segal had something in common: Both won on their sixth nomination.
Like the Oscars -- to which they are often compared -- the Beards are allergic to brevity. The program, which ran in excess of three hours, started with a resounding thud in the form of an interminable excerpt from "I Like to Eat," a one-man show about the awards' namesake epicurian. Playwright James Still and actor James Neal gave the play its debut last fall at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, and their efforts left me with the civic-minded fear that the black-tie audience (many of whom paid $475 for a ticket) would somehow associate -- OK, blame -- Minneapolis and not Indianapolis for spawning such ham.
The crowd, as usual, was starry: Chefs Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Rick Bayless, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, José Andres and Sam Kass, the White House senior policy adviser for healthful food initiatives, were some of the many boldfaced culinary names in attendance. There were famous television faces, too, including Ted Allen, Robin Roberts and Alton Brown, the evening's master of ceremonies. Although it's possible to do so at Lunds, it was delightful to bump into Andrew Zimmern, particularly after his win a few nights earlier at the Beard's media awards, when his Travel Channel series, "Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern," won in the Television Program, on Location category.
Sticking out in the mostly black-tie crowd, Paul Grieco of Terroir in New York City, winner of the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional, won my own personal Outstanding Apparel Item award, a green Canada Dry delivery jacket. At the microphone, Grieco thanked his wife, "for allowing ... this," he said with a laugh, gesturing at his unorthodox evening wear.
As for the after-party, where 2,000 attendees filled two floors and the terrace of Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, more than 20 top-flight chefs prepared nibbles, basing their dishes on recipes culled from classic James Beard cookbooks. Standouts included a ham-parsley terrine ("It's like an edible terrarium," said a friend of mine) from Barbara Lynch of Boston's Menton, a gorgeous borscht with hearty duck bratwurst from Sanford D'Amato of Sanford in Milwaukee and a hyper-seasonal custard garnished with fiddlehead ferns and a nettle purée by Keith Luce of Luce & Hawkins in Jamesport, N.Y.
Some of my favorite Beard 2012 moments were when:
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