NEW YORK—The glitterati of the food world, and a plethora of minions, hangers-on, and the lumpen media that cover them descended on the annual James Beard Awards gala at Manhattan's Lincoln Center Monday night. The news of greatest interest to the local audience is that the Twin Cities food scene had a pretty good weekend in the national spotlight, garnering a handful of Beard Awards and sending very few of its nominees home empty-handed.
Alex Roberts (Restaurant Alma, Brasa) overcame a multi-year jinx and beat out Isaac Becker, Lenny Russo, and Missouri chefs Gerard Craft and Coby Garrelts to be named Best Chef Midwest. His acceptance speech was the only one of the night to somewhat defensively address the sophistication of the food scene and the quality of ingredients available in the provinces.
Salty Tart bakery’s Michelle Gayer was not as fortunate, competing against the entire nation’s top pastry chefs. She was bested by Nicole Plue of Redd restaurant in the Napa Valley. Still, her nomination places her in the top five of working pastry chefs nationally, the only one not operating out of a restaurant kitchen or high-end hotel/resort.
The local angle was also widely apparent in Sunday night’s media awards, where our own Andrew Zimmern brought home a Beard, named America's favorite TV Food Personality, besting Food Network’s Alton Brown and Chicago's Rick Bayless’ PBS shows. Minnesota Monthly ’s Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl managed to keep the media awards judges in her thrall, but not enough to win in the “Food Related Columns” category, but she did win a Beard for wine writing.
Perhaps the biggest locally oriented moment of the awards weekend came Monday evening when Wayne Kostroski (Tejas, Goodfellows), founder of Franklin Street Bakery, received the Beard Humanitarian of the Year award for his two decades of work on Taste of the NFL, raising millions for hunger relief causes.
Kostroski gave a gracious and humble speech, calling the foodservice industry one of the nation’s most giving and exhorting himself on for more years of good works. (Taste was founded around Minneapolis’s 1992 Super Bowl, but has gone on to become a staple of every Super Bowl weekend, bringing in chefs from the nation’s 32 NFL cities to raise money to fight hunger.)
Major national awards of note included: NYC’s Marea, named Best New Restaurant; Tom Colicchio, named Outstanding Chef; NYC’s Daniel, named Outstanding Restaurant; and Chicago’s Alinea, recognized for Outstanding Service. Chicago chef Koren Grieveson (Avec) was named Best Chef Great Lakes.
The usually interminable ceremony moved at a faster clip this year, finishing up in just over three hours. Host Alton Brown was at his witty best, repeatedly mocking the evening’s tedious pace and adding a less than reverential snap to what is a night of deep self-congratulation. Co-host Wolfgang Puck offered several interesting takes on the English language and repeatedly commented on the affluence of various cooking legends, proving once and again that you can take the boy out of Beverly Hills but . . .