CHICAGO – Paul Berglund of the Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis is the best chef in the Midwest. So says the James Beard Foundation, bestowing the accolade on the Minneapolis chef at its annual gala, often called the “Oscars of the food world.”
As one of maybe two dozen honorees bedecked with the Beard medallion at the packed-to-the-rafters gala at the city’s Civic Opera House, a beaming Berglund was congratulated by luminaries, including chefs Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Rick Bayless.
Many of the night’s national awards broke with tradition and went to restaurants and chefs outside New York City.
Alinea in Chicago was named Outstanding Restaurant, Shaya in New Orleans won Best New Restaurant, Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles is 2016’s Outstanding Chef, Joanne Chang of Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe was named Outstanding Baker, the Outstanding Pastry Chef award went to Dahlia Narvaez of L.A.’s Osteria Mozza and Bern’s Steakhouse of Tampa, Fla., was honored in Outstanding Wine Program.
New Yorkers weren’t shut out, however.
Daniela Soto-Innes of Cosme was named Rising Star Chef of the Year (bestowed upon chefs age 30 and under), Outstanding Service went to Eleven Madison Park, Brooklyn’s Maison Premiere won Outstanding Bar Program, and Ken Friedman of the Spotted Pig, the Breslin and Tosca Cafe was named Outstanding Restaurateur.
Note that the top four chef awards — chef, pastry chef, baker and rising star — all went to women, which hasn’t happened since 2004.
Minneapolis represented at the after-party, a glamorous food and drink free-for-all hosted by some of the nation’s top chefs.
Spoon and Stable pastry chef Diane Yang and her crew were passing out the party’s most refreshing dessert, small jars of tangy grapefruit curd topped with chantilly cream and crispy thyme-scented meringue. So good.
And Jamie Malone and Erik Anderson of the upcoming Brut devised a smooth-as-silk chicken liver terrine (flavored with prunes soaked in Armagnac) served in tube-shaped croustades, their stylish version of Ritz crackers.
The couple drove from Minneapolis to Chicago with 1,200 of the delicate shells, fearing that every bump in the road would lead to disaster. They weren’t even out of the Twin Cities when they were detoured off I-94, “and right onto a cobblestone street,” said Malone with a laugh. Fortunately, all arrived intact.
Other highlights? The sublime brisket from Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas (“the line here is longer than the line outside the restaurant,” quipped one patience-tested partygoer, a nod to the runaway success of chef Aaron Franklin’s establishment), the octopus “pastrami” from chef Markus Glocker at New York City’s Batard, and the bacon-wrapped pork meatloaf from chef Naomi Pomeroy at Beast in Portland, Ore.
Another Minnesota connection: Marcus Samuelsson, chef/co-owner of the former Aquavit in downtown Minneapolis, was one of five inductees into the foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America.
Samuelsson, dapper as ever in a cranberry jacket and gleaming white sneakers, once again earned the unofficial Best Dressed honors, male division, at the black-tie event. The other top best-dressed candidate was definitely Rohini Dey, owner of Chicago’s Vermilion — one of the country’s great Indian restaurants — who shined in a shimmering metallic sari. (Runner-up: host Carla Hall of ABC’s “The Chew,” who even switched up her eyewear when she changed outfits mid-show.)
The evening’s “TV dinner” theme had some odd moments, most notably the music choices used to usher winners to the stage. When Justin Yu of Oxheart won for Best Chef: Southwest, the theme from “Dallas” was played. The restaurant is in Houston.
As always, the acceptance speeches were a highlight, with winners managing to deftly think on their feet.
“A 21-year overnight success” is how Ron Cooper, winner of the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional award described himself. He’s the founder of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal in Ranchos de Taos, N.M.
“Hashtag yesssssssss,” exclaimed Demian Repucci, winner of the Outstanding Restaurant Design award for a project with 75 or fewer seats, for his work on Bruno in New York City.
Much-nominated first-time winner Jonathan Waxman (of Manhattan’s Barbuto, and winner of Best Chef New York City), age 66, joked that he thought he might win in the “oldest chef” category.
“Who would have thought ‘hummus in New Orleans,’ ” said Shaya owner Alon Shaya, on the notion of a (wildly successful) Israeli restaurant in the capital of Creole cooking.
Outstanding Restaurateur winner Ken Friedman reminded the audience that “there is no ‘n’ in restaurateur,” and joked that Kayne West was going to appear, take his award and give it to someone more deserving.
The tackiest speech? When Julian Niccolini, co-owner of New York City’s fabled the Four Seasons restaurant (and winner of the Beard’s new Design Icon award), used the occasion to announce the auction of the restaurant’s furnishings, everything “except for the walls,” he said. Want a piece of midcentury modern dining history (the space was a career-maker for Philip Johnson, the architect behind the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis)? The auction is scheduled for July 26.
Also misguided: the foundation’s decision to eliminate speeches for the five honorees in the America’s Classics categories, which celebrate beloved-in-their-community establishments (Al’s Breakfast and Kramarczuk’s in Minneapolis are past winners). What a mistake, given that they’re often the evening’s most heartfelt moments.
That was certainly underscored when the indomitable Leah Chase took center stage. The owner of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant (a 75-year-old New Orleans dining institution) is the year’s Lifetime Achievement honoree.
After joking with presenter Samuelsson (“I learned a lot from Marcus, and he stole from me, too,” she said) and talking about the thrill of cooking for President Obama, and his faux pas for adding hot sauce to her gumbo (“Mr. Obama, from Chicago, what do you know about gumbo? Nothing,” she said with a laugh), she ended on her life-affirming passion for the restaurant business, and it earned her a second standing ovation.
“Look me up in 10 years,” said the 93-year-old. “I will be working.”
For a complete list of winners, go to jamesbeard.org/awards.