Special to Chow & Again: Mpls.St.Paul Magazine restaurants editor Adam Platt reports from the James Beard Awards.
NEW YORK—It was a foodie- and food-studded night at the twentieth annual James Beard Restaurant Awards, held last night at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. The headlines, for Twin Cities eaters, were disappointing: Tim McKee (La Belle Vie) and Alex Roberts (Restaurant Alma) failed to win the Best Chef Midwest designation, bested by Celina Tio of Kansas City's American Restaurant. It was McKee and Roberts' first nominations, and the first year that the Twin Cities had been separated from Chicago in the Beard Awards, which was thought to make it easier for the local chefs. Maybe next year.
Other local favorites showed well, though. City Pages' Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl picked up two food writing awards at Sunday night's journalism awards, and Duluth's Pickwick Restaurant was named one of six American Classic eateries for 2007, recognizing long-standing fixtures on the American culinary scene. (Al's Breakfast won a few years back.)
The 3:10 ceremony was as long as the Oscars, and not quite as compelling. Avery Fisher Hall was entered on a red carpet, cameras and boom mikes astride it, reporters looking for the luminaries of the food world. And they were out in abundance: Jacques Pepin, Eric Ripert, Drew Nieporent, Thomas Keller, Danny Meyer, Bobby Flay, and even Salman Rushdie was in attendance. (His wife was a presenter.)
In a show of utter East Coast snobbery, Boston-based chef Todd English presented the Best Chef Midwest award, mispronouncing most of the nominees or their restaurants, leaving no time for applause or recognition. The Best Chef New York award, which he presented next, contained not a single kerfuffle and liberal applause pauses. The ceremony dragged on so long that when Michel Richard of Washington DC's Citronelle won Outstanding Chef, the night's final award, the audience literally ran to the exits (and the food/drink) before he could ascend the podium. Well, people were hungry.
The highlights of the awards: Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Per Se) was named Outstanding Restaurateur, Richard was Outstanding Chef, Chicago's Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill was the nation's top restaurant, while New York's outpost of L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon was named Best New Restaurant. Chef David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar (NYC) was named Rising Star Chef of the Year.
A perky, flirty, somewhat mawkish Hannah Storm of CBS's Morning Show was mistress of ceremonies, and she could not even say goodnight before the 1,500 or so guests in attendance fled their cushioned seats for the public areas of Avery Fisher Hall and an assemblage of foodie freebies.
Culinary highlights: Tastings of Andrew Carmellini's (A Voce/NYC) duck meatballs; David Chang's poached asparagus with miso butter; Todd English's (Olives/Boston, et al) "free form" morel lasagna with Maine crab and fava beans; Charles Pham's (The Slanted Door/SFO) carmelized shrimp with lemongrass and Thai chili; Tre Wilcox's (Abacus/Dallas) seared sea scallops with truffled potato sauce and spinach; and Carina Ahlin's (Aquavit/NYC) white chocolate cheesecake with rhubarb and almond crumbs.
Less successful were Grant Achatz's (Alinea/Chicago, best chef Great Lakes) sweet puffs with morels, ramps, and black pepper; Marcus Samuelsson's (Aquavit/NYC) cured salmon with burnt leek nougatine; and Bobby Flay's oyster and lobster shooters.
A passle of Twin Citians were in attendance, among them, the Strib's Rick Nelson, gourmands Bob and Sue MacDonald, La Belle Vie's Bill Sommerville and Josh Thoma, WCCO's Sue Zelickson, and former Twin Citian, now New Orleans restaurant critic, Brett Anderson, who not only did not come in black tie, but wore an orange shirt. Despite the Twins' night off, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau did not appear to present their salute to Jimmy John's.
The evening's odd highlight was when Pickwick Duluth proprietor Chris Wisocki offered thanks to all "the crazy Polacks in Duluth." It got a hearty, but uncomfortable laugh.
Still, the lingering message of the evening was that American food continues to advance, thrive, and mature, as our culinary horizons broaden. The most notable aspect was perhaps that the American food scene is so diverse and interesting that the vast majority of the country's wonderful restaurants never are recognized by the Beards.
For the full rundown on the evenings winners and losers, see the Beard Foundation's website. I'd suggest you now go out and book a table at Alma and La Belle Vie, or any other chef-driven restaurant in town, because it's those folks who keep our food scene moving and grooving.
Back to you, Andrew . . . .