Food Writer's Diary

Picks for 2012 James Beard Award winners

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Once again a coterie of food writers, chefs and restaurateurs have nominated a talented array of professional to win the James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Awards, and once again I shall endeavor to guess who they will ultimately pick as the winners.

These predictions are based, as they are every year, on the notion that the best nominees are not necessarily selected; the most popular ones are.

Of course, all the nominees are deserving and I hope they all leverage their nominations to promote their services and improve their business. But the winners will be the ones about whom there is the most buzz, about whom the media, nationally and, more importantly, in their own regions, feel good about.

I think local and regional media are most important because judges are instructed to vote only in categories in which they feel qualified to vote, and to promise not to vote for restaurants where they haven’t eaten.

So although I cover the whole country, being based in New York I would not vote for best chef in the Southwest.

So that’s how the voting works, and below are my predictions of who I think will win in categories that I care about. These predictions should in no way be seen as my votes for the awards. They are who I think will win, not necessarily who I’d like to win.

View the full list of nominees.

Rising Star
Nominees:

Dave Beran of Next in Chicago
Daniel Bowien of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco
Thomas McNaughton of Flour + Water in San Francisco
Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City
Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s in New Orleans

Winner is bolded

Thomas McNaughton, Christina Tosi and Sue Zemanick all were nominated last year, but I think they’re going to be disappointed by the power that is Grant Achatz and his restaurant Next. I think Dave Beran will win.

Best New Restaurant
Nominees:

AQ in San Francisco
Fiola in Washington, D.C.
Next in Chicago
Isa NYC
Tertulia NYC

Winner is bolded

I suppose there is a danger that since Next is so hard to get into a lot of judges won’t ethically be able to vote for it, but I think that obstacle will be overcome and Next will win.

Outstanding Bar Program
Nominees:

The Aviary Chicago
The Violet Hour Chicago,
Bar Agricole in San Francisco,
Pegu Club in New York City
PDT in New York City

Winner is bolded

This is tricky. Not only is it a brand new category, meaning I don’t know how people traditionally vote, but also because because although people do go goo-goo ga-ga over Grant Achatz and will feel compelled to vote for his Aviary, I’ve never met anyone whose eyes don’t moisten a little bit in admiration of James Meehan, the owner of PDT. I’m going to guess PDT.

Best Restaurateur
Nominees:

Bruce Bromberg and Eric Bromberg of Blue Ribbon Restaurants in New York City,
Tom Douglas of Tom Douglas Restaurants in Seattle,
Piero Selvaggio of the Valentino Restaurant Group in Santa Monica, Calif.,
Caroline Styne of Lucques, A.O.C. and Tavern in Los Angeles,
Phil Suarez of the Suarez Restaurant Group in New York City

Winner is bolded

Chefs love the Blue Ribbon restaurants. They love them! But they also admire Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants, whose financier is Phil Suarez. And so do food writers. Both of those restaurateurs, and Tom Douglas, were nominated last year. This year I think Phil Suarez is going to get it.

Outstanding Restaurant
Nominees:

Balthazar in New York City
Blue Hill in New York City
Boulevard in San Francisco
Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Ala.
Vetri in Philadelphia.

Winner is bolded

This is sort of a lifetime achievement award and goes to a restaurant that has paid its dues. All of these restaurants except Balthazar also were nominated this year.

The award could easily go to Blue Hill, whose executive chef Dan Barber is a media darling, but there’s something about the gravitas of Boulevard that I think will result in it getting the medallion.

Outstanding Chef
Nominees:

David Chang of the Momofuku restaurants
Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park
Gary Danko of Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco
Paul Kahan of Blackbird in Chicago
Donald Link of Herbsaint in New Orleans
Nancy Silverton of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles.

Winner is bolded

This is also a sort of lifetime achievement award (José Andrés got it last year). As such, it’s kind of surprising that only Paul Kahan and Gary Danko were nominated last year. I think it will go to one of them, and I think there has been more buzz lately about Paul Kahan. So I think it will go to him.

Outstanding Pastry Chef
Nominees:

Joanna Chang of Flour Bakery + Café in Cambridge, Mass.
Melissa Chou of Aziza in San Francisco
Hedy Goldsmith of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami
Dahlia Narvaez of Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles
Ghaya Oliveira of Boulud Sud in New York City
Mindy Segal of Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in Chicago. 

Winner is bolded

Joanna Chang, Dahlia Narvaez and Mindy Segal all were nominated last year, which improves their chances, but I think Daniel Boulud’s star power will shine through and Ghaya Oliveira will win.

Outstanding Service
Nominees:

Spiaggia in Chicago
Topolobampo in Chicago
Cyrus in Healdsberg, Calif.
Michael Mina in San Francisco
La Grenouille in New York City.

Winner is bolded

La Grenouille and Topolobampo are back from last year. The judges like giving awards to both Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia and Rick Bayless of Topolobampo, but I’ve been hearing Michael Mina’s name in the ether a lot lately. I think his restaurant will get it.

Outstanding Wine Service
Nominees:

A16 in San Francisco
The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.
Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder, Colo.
Emeril’s in New Orleans
No. 9 Park in Boston

Winner is bolded

A16, Blackberry Farm and Frasca were nominated last year. Blackberry Farm always gets nominated for something, and they don’t win much. But their PR team has been promoting them pretty well of late, and I think it will be enough to push them over the top.

Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional
Nominees:

Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del.
Merry Edwards of Merry Edwards Winery in Sebastopol, Calif.
Paul Grieco of Terroir in New York City,
Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery in New York City,
Neal Rosenthal of Mad Rose Group in Pine Plains, N.Y.

Winner is bolded

Sam Calagione, Merry Edwards and Paul Grieco are all back for another year. I predicted that Grieco would win last year and I totally blew that one. Although New Yorkers tend to have an advantage in the James Beard Awards, I’m still betting that Sam Calagione’s going to win this year.

 

Okay, now the regional awards:

Great Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio)
Nominees:

Michael Carlson of Schwa in Chicago
Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat in Chicago
Anne Kearney of Rue Dumaine in Dayton, Ohio
Bruce Sherman of North Pond in Chicago
Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia in Chicago

Winner is bolded

Last year, on a roster as dominated by Chicago as this one is, Alex Young of Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Mich., walked away with a win. Could Anne Kearney do the same? Yes she could. But maybe Stephanie Izard’s star power as a former Top Chef contestant could giver her the edge. Then Again, Sepia was in a Hollywood film, The Dilemma. I’m betting on the TV chef.

Mid-Atlantic (D.C., Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia)
Nominees:

Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va.
Johnny Monis of Komi in Washington, D.C.
Peter Pastan of Obelisk in Washington, D.C.
Maricel Presilla of Cucharamama in Hoboken, N.J.
Vikram Sunderam of Rasika in Washington, D.C.

Winner is bolded

Only Vikram Sunderam is new to this list, so it could go any way. But I’ve heard Cathal Armstrong’s name on a number of occasions recently. There’s buzz about him, so he’ll probably win.

Midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin)
Nominees:

Justin Aprahamian of Sanford in Milwaukee
Gerard Craft of Niche in St. Louis
Colby Garrelts of Bluestem in Kansas City, Mo.
Tory Miller of L’Etoile in Madison, Wis.,
Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul, Minn.

Winner is bolded

I’m kind of at a loss for this one, but the name Colby Garrelts is jumping out at me. If it jumps out at me, it could well jump out at a Midwestern judge.

New York City
Nominees:

Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern
April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig
Wylie Dufresne of WD~50
Mark Ladner of Del Posto
Michael White of Marea

Winner is bolded

Congratulations to Mark Ladner, who joins four nominees from last year. Ladner is the chef of Mario Batali’s only four-star restaurant, which is a big deal. On the other hand, everybody loves Danny Meyer and his restaurants, giving Michael Anthony a good shot. But they admire Michael White. Does admiration trump love? No, it does not. They’ll vote for Michael Anthony.

Northeast (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York State, Rhode Island and Vermont)
Nominees:

Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa in Boston
Tim Cushman of O Ya in Boston
Gerry Hayden of The North Fork Table & Inn in Southold, N.Y.
Matt and Kate Jennings of La Laiterie in Providence, R.I.
Eric Warnstedt of Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, Conn.

Winner is bolded

Jamie Bissonnette’s the only newcomer to this list. He was named the People’s Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine’s readers last year. It’s possible that the Beard Foundation voters will instead vote for Gerry Hayden, showing their erudition by selecting the former chef of Aureole. But often when a chef wins one award he or she wins many of them. I think Jamie Bissonnette will take this one, too.

Northwest (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming)
Nominees:

Matt Dillon of Sitka & Spruce in Seattle
Jason Franey of Canlis in Seattle
Christopher Israel of Gruner in Portland
Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland
Cathy Whims of Nostrana in Portland

Winner is bolded

Is it possible that Food & Wine Best New Chefs is becoming the Golden Globes to the Beard Awards, which are often called the Oscars of the fine dining world?

Izard was a Best New Chef last year, and so was Jason Franey. Canlis is a very old and very much respected restaurant that has been given a facelift by brothers Mark and Brian Canlis — the third generation in the family to run the place. It’s a sentimental favorite, and we love sentiment. Congratulations in advance to Jason Franey.

Pacific (California and Hawaii)
Nominees:

Michael Chiarello of Bottega in Yountville, Calif.
Chris Cosentino of Incanto in San Francisco
Christopher Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowlands in St. Helena, Calif.
Matt Molina of Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles
Daniel Patterson of Coi in San Francisco

Winner is bolded

I wish I knew how old the average California judges was. Those who remember Michael Chiarello from his Tra Vigne days will feel inclined to vote for him again. Then again, this is California, where young, hip and cool people like Chris Cosentino are admired. But I think Daniel Patterson is emitting an aura of gravitas that I’m not getting from the other chefs.
Will gravitas translate into votes? Maybe not, but I’m betting that it will.

South (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi)
Nominees:

Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery in New Orleans
John Harris of Lilette in New Orleans
Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Ala.
Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans
Alon Shaya of Domenica in New Orleans

Winner is bolded

John Harris, Chris Hastings and Tory McPhail are all back from last year. Based on nothing but my gut, I think Chris Hastings is going to win this year.

Southeast (Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia)
Nominees:

Huge Acheson of Five and Ten in Athens, Ga.
Craig Deihl of Cypress in Charleston, S.C.
Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta
Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Ky.
Joseph Lenn of The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.

Winner is bolded

Joseph Lenn is the only newcomer to this list, which comes from a part of the country that admires culinary tradition and enjoys voting for Charleston chefs. I think they’re going to vote for Craig Deihl

Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah)
Nominees:

Bruce Auden of Biga on the Banks in San Antonio, Texas
Kevin Binkley of Binkley’s Restaurant in Cave Creek, Ariz.
Bruno Davaillon of Mansion Restaurant at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas
Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja in Denver
Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s in Houston
Paul Qui of Uchiko in Austin, Texas.

Winner is bolded

There’s been a huge turnover of nominees in the Southwest. Bruce Auden is the only returning nominee. What does that mean?

It could mean anything, but in my experience bigger cities have more judges, and Houston is now the third biggest city in the country. That gives a Hugo Ortega an advantage that I think will result in his victory.

And those are my predictions. If you have some of your own, why, go ahead and share them in the comments section.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly outlined the nomination history of Gerard Craft. He has been a James Beard Awards nominee in the past.

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 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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