The James Beard Foundation Awards just concluded this past weekend, and as an attendee, I thought I would throw out some random thoughts about the event, and some ideas about things I saw and heard . . . in no particular order.
The awards themselves are an awards show, and like any Awards list or Best Of, there will be controversy on every aspect of choosing a “winner.” Someone has to be chosen and any system where a winner or best is even considered is fraught with difficulty. I am a huge supporter of the JBF and have been for more than 20 years. It’s what they do the rest of the year that counts most for me. Plus, in the act of choosing designees for their awards they are drawing the best kind of attention to the world of food. It’s a hard job, and they do a great thing with the awards. Naysayers can feel free to argue all they want, but seeking a perfect system helps no one and achieves nothing. Look at all the benefit to the food world at large in America that is a direct result of the JBF Awards program!
Some may quibble most with the restaurant/chefs awards, but let me assure you the judging and committee work on those awards is insanely rigorous. And the judges travel and eat in restaurants all over the country to seek out the best and the brightest. In the end, you may think one person deserves recognition over another and that the JBFA panels missed the mark, but by the end of the selection process, as I sat in the hall listening to chef after chef hear their name called, I found it impossible in any category or region to think a choice was wrong because any of the finalists would have made great winners. Congrats to all the chefs and restaurants, writers, and TV talent, editors, and authors who make up our amazing food world. Those nominated, those who won medallions, and most importantly, to all who make up the community at large. Our industry is indeed ‘a community’ and that’s an amazing fact. Eighty percent of all Americans will at one point take a job, be it ever so brief in the hospitality world. Think about that stat.
Most overlooked quote of the weekend: David Bouley calling out the amazing work of the American Classics designees and reminding everyone that a cheeseburger at Shady Grove is as valid as a meal at NOMA. So true.
Who’s Who: Five were inducted but none more appropriate than Grant Achatz of Alinea and Next, and Dana Cowin of Food & Wine Magazine. These are truly people who change the game.
Chopped: The award that I imagine will get the most discussion and argument was the series of awards connected to the Food Network show Chopped. It won for best TV show shot in a studio. Some people will think that a more traditional dump/stir show should have won. They will say that this is a competition show, and not a show about real cooking. Bullsh*t. Here’s why: More cooks are seen, and more conversation about cooking takes place on that show than on just about any other I can think of. It’s reflective about where we are as a food culture, and in analyzing every week how four chefs will attack baskets of ingredients. In listening to some really serious food people discuss what makes the dishes work or not, this may be the most food focused show on TV despite its fantastical premise. Ted Allen received the TV personality award soon after, making it a double dose for him that evening. This is sure to raise some eyebrows as well since he is neither a cook nor a judge. For me the show is about the cooks on that show. Secondarily it’s about the judges. You can argue that Allen is simply the ringmaster of that show. True. But Allen is also one of the most popular people in the TV space and since the award is for personality, I am not sure you can deny he should be in the mix. I got to put the medal around his neck since I was a previous winner of this award and Allen would be the first to tell you that there are a dozen folks out there deserving of this award as well. It was Chopped’s year, and he is the leader of that circus and he deserves our congrats.
Head Scratcher: Of all the awards, these are the ones that have me still reeling. Chris Cosentino not winning in the Pacific region. By the way, Chris’s new book just came out, take a sneak peek here. Michael Anthony winning in NYC . . . he’s an amazing chef, insanely deserving of nomination and of winning, but as a frequent visitor to all the restos that the nominated chefs work and play in. It’s not that I can’t believe Anthony won, it’s that I can’t believe Wylie Dufresne or Michael White or April Bloomfield didn’t.
Speaking of which, I had amazing meals in NYC at Grand Sichuan, The Breslin, Golden Unicorn, Osteria Morini, Balthazar, Barbuto, ABC Kitchen, and Isa. But I’ll share more on all that another time.
Oh yeah, and the complete List of winners is here.
And by the way, the video that opened the awards is amazing. There are a slew of 20-something chefs from 20-some odd years ago that will blow your mind. Check it out.
Best acceptance speech: Daniel Humm for outstanding chef, asking the JBF to make an award for outstanding wife. His better half is an amazing woman and mother, and my wife and I had the chance to hang out with the Eleven Madison Park team on Saturday at the restaurant and on Monday at the awards. Great restaurateurs, better people. Congrats.
Best Books: Say what you want but the JBF nailed it. Ruhlman’s Twenty and Modernist Cuisine are far and away the two best books in their class that I saw last year. If you only buy two books, make it these two.
One last note, Charlie Trotter won the Humanitarian of the Year award and no one deserves it more. For 25 years he has been a curmudgeon and famously difficult despite being one of the world’s best chefs. But his work for others has been tireless and continuous and he is one of the most impressive people I have ever met. Wolfgang Puck won Lifetime Achievement, and I think that speaks for itself.
HBO, Paul Liebrandt and A Matter of Taste won an award for their amazing documentary. It is must-see if you love food.
On June 27, Beard Award Winners Tim McKee, Gavin Kaysen (NYC), Alex Roberts, Isaac Becker, and myself will be cooking a dinner at Tom Colicchio’s Riverpark in NYC benefiting the JBF. You can make your reservations on this link. It’s going to be an awesome night as we bring Minnesota to the Big Apple. Join us.