It’s a wrap for this year’s James Beard awards, as chefs (and journalists) leave New York with full bellies and exhausted livers. This year’s awards continued some of the “cleaning house” we saw last year, in which several long-time nominees finally got their medals and opened up nomination slots for new chefs for next year’s awards. Winemaker Merry Edwards won best Wine and Spirits Professional after six nominations, while the seventh year served to be the charm for Wylie DuFresne of New York’s WD-50 and Colby Garrelts of Kansas City’s Bluestem, who won their respective regional awards. As well, the Outstanding Chef award went to both Paul Kahan and David Chang, in a tie both seemed thrilled to accept. It’s worth noting that this was the third time there was a tie in this category; Larry Forgione and Jean-Louis Palladin shared the award in 1993, and Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten tied in 1998.
Two longtime female restaurateurs were honored: Maguy LeCoze became the first woman in the 26-year history of the awards to be named outstanding restaurateur for the iconic Le Bernadin (not to mention my pick as best dressed of the night), and San Francisco restaurant legend Cecilia Chiang received the lifetime achievement award at 92 years of age, celebrating and out-doing people half her age at the Del Posto after-party. Del Posto of course had much to celebrate; Pastry Chef Brooks Headly took the Outstanding Pastry Chef award and Outstanding Service.
Unlike the last few years, the acceptance speeches weren’t especially clever or funny; I think the emotions that came from finally winning humbled more than one winner. Many chefs first thanked their spouses and restaurant families, which was really nice to hear, as always. When Dan Barber picked up the Outstanding Restaurant award for Blue Hill, he brought a few key staff members onstage, and sweetly outlined how many years they had been with him, and their various paths – from night porter to pastry chef, or line cook to vice president - for example.
Also (surprisingly) touching was the Humanitarian of the Year award for Emeril Lagasse; if you still think of him as the loud "BAM!" guy, check out this video about his service work; I have a new level of respect and admiration for him.
The Beard Foundation kept the food and film theme strong throughout the night – often to the detriment of the audience members’ eyesight, with repeated use of 3D effects on photos and nominee lists to encourage us to use the 3D glasses that were passed out with programs. They also dotted the ceremony with movie trivia related to the winners; Parts of “It’s Complicated” starring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin were filmed at Del Posto; New Orleans winner Tory McPhail will ask interviewees which is Patrick Swayze’s best work (and “Ghost” is the wrong answer). All in all, good fun, and well-deserved honors for this year's nominees and winners. I'm excited to see who comes up next year.