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A chef’s job is ridiculously hard. It requires long hours of manual labor in hot settings for not much money. Chefs work on weekends and holidays and during celebrations; almost any time someone else is having fun. If a chef works very hard and does the job well, he or she might then have to manage the daily dramas of staff, many of whom come from the margins of society, while making sure they comply with health codes, as well as managing an increasingly complex array of labor laws and zoning regulations, on top of the regular daily headaches that all small-business managers face.

But chefs do, as a general rule, love their jobs, and the Beard Awards are an occasion for celebrating that fact, gathering to appreciate the camaraderie they share and reveling in what Christopher Kostow, chef of the Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, Calif. — who was named Best Chef in the West at the awards — called “this entire amazing culture that we have.”

So it didn’t matter that the theme of the awards, “Lights Camera Taste: Spotlight on Food & Film,” seemed like a non-sequitur, and that few people in the audience used the 3D glasses that were handed out to read the parts of the program or view the video presentations that were engineered to take advantage of that technology. The master of ceremonies, actor Oliver Platt, did as well as could be expected amusing the audience and moving things along. Award recipients cried when appropriate, the audience cheered and the stars of the independent restaurant world went out into the night to continue the celebration of the industry.

The revelry started with a reception in which guest chefs were supposed to prepare dishes that reflected a favorite film — Christopher Lee of Sophia’s in Philadelphia served smoked baby back ribs with Georgia peach glaze inspired by Smokey and the Bandit; Traci des Jardins of Jardinière in San Francisco served tortilla soup, inspired by the film of that name; Aarón Sánchez of Mestizo in Leawood, Kan., served lamb enchiladas with mole negro inspired by Like Water for Chocolate.

After-parties followed, many of which closed earlier than expected. Del Posto, which won the Outstanding Service award, stopped letting people in by around 12:30 a.m., and Eleven Madison Park’s annual frat-party-like bash, which was held off-site in a rented event space this year, was shut down by the police at around 1:30 a.m. It was not immediately clear why, but nearby Irish bars in Midtown Manhattan benefited from the spillover of restaurant industry folk who continued into the night.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 8, 2013 This article has been updated with the correct name of the James Beard Foundation 2013 Restaurant and Chef Awards master of ceremonies, and with the correct years Melissa Kelly won a James Beard Award. It also corrects the identification of persons in the last image on the second page.

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