Food Writer's Diary

Beard Awards: Press room or audience?

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Well, it could be argued that I should hang up my hat as James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Award predictor. Of the 19 categories that I predicted two months ago, I got four of them right: I prected that Per Se would win for outstanding service, that Eleven Madison Park would win for outstanding restaurant, that Michael Solomonov would win for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic and that Tony Maws would win for best chef in the northeast.

I got everything else wrong. Here are the winners.

But that’s all right. The awards were interesting. Portland, Ore., picked up two awards — for Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon, who won Rising Star Chef of the Year, which goes to a promising chef aged 30 years or younger; and for Andy Ricker of Pok Pok, who won for best chef in the Northwest.

For best chef in New York, Gabrielle Hamilton beat out Michael Anthony, April Bloomfield, Wylie Dufresne and Michael White.

Cynics would say that she won because she wrote a book, an argument that would have added weight because the winner for best chef in the Southeast, Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, N.C., also recently had a book published.

We also saw what I think was the first tie in a chef and restaurant award, between Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas and Tyson Cole of Uchi in Austin, Texas.

I was told that Cole was less than gracious about being part of a tie, but I wouldn't know, because I decided to spend the awards in the press room.

I had a ticket to be part of the audience, and I was told I’d have to choose where to go. I could either sit in the audience for more than three hours while awards were handed out and speeches were made, or I could be in the press room, eating meatballs and cheese and drinking cocktails and Champagne and coffee and talking with my fellow food writers while the awards played on monitors in the rooms.

It didn’t used to be like that. These were my 13th Beard Awards, and I remember when you used to be able to move back and forth between theater and press room whenever you liked, watching the ceremony, running back to the press room to interview chefs, running back to the ceremony.

Ultimately I settled for watching the proceedings from the press room, but over the years that room has taken on a life of its own.

It used to be that only about a couple dozen members of the press cared about the Beard Awards — maybe fewer. The press room was a tranquil place. The video feed broke sometimes, or they'd forget to show us the videos of the humanitarian award winner or the who's who inductees, but it wasn't that big a deal.

Now the press room has maybe a hundred people at its most crowded moments, some socializing, some live-tweeting, many asking me who just won as I scampered back to the press room's entryway, where the loudspeakers were located so I could actually hear the results of the awards over the din of the crowd.

It’s a fun party, but the Beard Awards could be on another planet. And now that the Beard Foundation is live-tweeting the results, we don't really need to be there at all.

Still, should I be hanging out with the collegial group of people in the press room, ranging from reporters from Reuters and the Wall Street Journal to representatives from web sites like Eatocracy and Eater and blogs I’ve never heard of, or should I be sitting in the audience and reporting on the Zeitgeist of the ceremony, getting a grasp on what the leaders of the Fine Dining world are thinking about and understanding with my own eyes and ears how Tyson Cole behaved?

A bunch of people don't go to the awards at all, but show up at the afterparties, of which there are many.

After the awards and the reception that followed it, I started across the street from Lincoln Center, where Daniel Boulud's Bar Boulud has new neighbors, Boulud Sud and Epicerie Boulud, which hosted a raucous celebration for which Boulud opened a Balthazar — that's 12 liters — of 1998 Bordeaux.

There I ran into my friend Jennifer Watson, a devoted customer of Daniel’s, but also a devoted customer of The Modern, whose wine director Belinda Chang won the award for Outstanding Wine Service. So we went there next and drank Champagne while I spoke with the writers, chefs and publicists in town for the festivities.

We then took a quick swing by Eleven Madison Park and then on to ABC Kitchen before stopping in The Spotted Pig for a Pimm's Cup and commiserated with the family of Dahlia Narvaez, pastry chef of Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, who didn’t win the award for best pastry chef. Instead, that award went to Angela Pinkerton of Eleven Madison Park, which also won the award for Outstanding Restaurant.

I think conversation got philosophical, and Jennifer wanted a hamburger, but The Spotted Pig's kitchen had closed, and so we ended the evening, as food-oriented evenings often end, at Blue Ribbon, where I spoke with Christopher Hastings, chef of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Ala., who had lost the award for best chef in the South to Stephen Stryjiewski of Cochon in New Orleans, about the merits of setting up a foundation for the Bocuse d’Or.

Chris Hastings was with Gavin Kaysen, you see, who quite apart from being chef of Cafe Boulud represented the U.S. in the Bocuse d'Or some years back.

But soon Jennifer and I got a table and so instead of continuing the conversation, we had fried chicken.

Then we shared a taxi, which dropped me off in the office before taking her home, and then I wrote this blog entry.

And now I'm going home, too.

Good night.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @FoodWriterDiary

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Food Writer's Diary is a blog written by Bret Thorn, senior food editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, which covers culinary trends and his adventures.

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Bret Thorn

Bret Thorn is responsible for reporting on culinary trends in foodservice for Nation's Restaurant News. He joined NRN in 1999, after spending about five years as a journalist in Thailand, where...
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