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The Week After: Thoughts on 2012 James Beard Awards, Plus The New Reviewed New York

It has been a week since the 2012 James Beard Awards and courtesy of a splendid fun, food, and drink filled week exploring Seattle and Portland, we were unable to quickly analyze the proceedings and winners last Monday night in New York, as we were busy dining at some of the restaurants of the winners (true story).  It’s never too late to take a look at some of the main story lines to take away from this year.

Beginning with, the amount of attention lavished on the chefs and the awards themselves was unprecedented this year. As foodies become more and more common in the smallest pockets of the world, chefs are truly becoming Hollywood starlets and rock stars. This year’s complete red carpet treatment proves just how mainstream the fervent passion for restaurants and chefs has become.

No James Beard Awards for this restaurant

The difference between the Oscars and the James Beards: while actors and actresses are used to a media and camera frenzy, chefs tend to be of the awkward sort who freeze when attention is lavished upon them. I’d like to see Ryan Seacrest run the James Beards red carpet show for E! Network.

On to the winners, here is the complete list of winners and finalists.

No surprise to see Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine named cookbook of the year, being the most talked about cookbook since Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. The difference: Child intended for her cookbook to be accessible to everyone, Modernist Cuisine required Microsoft money to be written and requires a kitchen to make the recipes that would make El Bulli look like a chuckwagon barbeque.

A big fan of Brad Thomas Parsons’ Bitters, an intriguing, accessible guide to the now very popular, very complex subject of bitters– the reason masterpiece cocktails are magnificent oftentimes. Congratulations to all of the writer winners! Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune in New York won for her memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, a game-changing entry into the frantic life of a chef, written most eloquently.

Design of the year was maybe the surprise of the year. Le Bernardin’s stormy, murky, chic re-design hasn’t been a universally loved design. Eric Ripert’s cuisine always is what you leave Le Bernardin discussing.

A big congratulations to Lesley Bargar Suter, editor of Los Angeles Magazine‘s superb food section. She was most helpful in my research last year investigating Los Angeles food trends and continues to bring incredible knowledge and substance to the dining culture in that ever so fast metropolis.

John T. Edge won the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writer award. There should be an award named for Edge soon.

Alan Richman, love him or hate him, is a voice we all listen to and learn from. “Diner for Schmucks,” his rant on M.Wells in Long Island City may not have been an insightful restaurant review, but it did show that a cult favorite restaurant still needs to be humane. Richman is a one of a kind, much like Mr. Claiborne, the namesake for the reviewing award he received.

Bizarre Foods can win a James Beard, but it wouldn’t beat No Reservations any days for an Emmy.

With all of the avant-garde, modernist and the gastropub craze everywhere in Chicago, it’s terrific to see the refined touch of Bruce Sherman rewarded.

With Tory Miller of L’Etoile’s Best Chef: Midwest win, Madison is looking more and more like the next Raleigh-Durham/ Boulder gastronomy destination. I hear they make pretty good beer there…

I ate at Gramercy Tavern a month after Michael Anthony took over the kitchen there. Over five years later, it’s great to see him in full stride. Seriously though, how can you really choose a “best” chef in New York?

Tim Cushman, with his impeccable omakase cuisine at O Ya in Boston, would quite possibly be a household name with many restaurants nationwide if O Ya were in New York.

It’s hard to knock Matt Molina’s cooking at Osteria Mozza. However, this one scratches my head. Osteria Mozza isn’t even the most interesting Mozza in L.A. This may have been the James Beards trying to de-bunk the supposed anti-L.A. bias by picking a high profile Los Angeles destination over possibly more enriching choices in that city or any nominee in San Francisco.

Sitka & Spruce in Seattle, restaurant of Matt Dillon, winner for Best Chef: Northwest

There are too many deserving chefs in Portland and Seattle to name one deserving best chef. Having lunch at Matt Dillon’s Sitka & Spruce in Seattle hours before he was named Best Chef: Northwest, I realized just how pure and precise his cooking is. Each dish tells a story without attempting to muddle the central narrative with murky side plots.

No surprise seeing Next win Best New Restaurant. Soon there will be a category for pop ups and dining as theatre thanks to Next. No surprise and very deserved win for PDT in the inaugural bar program category. I’m sure Dogfish Head will bring home the statue next year.

Daniel Humm is the chef of 2012. With NoMad’s recent opening in New York, he is being careful about the exposure and expansion. He is so in touch with the culinary pulse, mixing classical elegance, modern but not excessively show, and then downright comfort: chicken for two at NoMad, see below’s review.

Boulevard is quite the institution in San Francisco, a place I used to drive by twice a day wanting to abruptly stop and stop by the bar for the Dungeness crab tower or a lavish pork chop with good family and friends in the back room overlooking the Bay Bridge. Nancy Oakes’ cooking is Chez Panisse in style with about 15 more ingredients per dish. It’s not uncommon for dishes at Boulevard to take five lines to explain, yet they always work. Every night is a celebration at Boulevard. Like all good parties, things could go off kilter here. Yet Oakes and Pamela Mazzola keep the level of consistency up night in and night out, where foodies, powerful financiers, couples, and families dine amidst belle époque splendor, waterfront views, and lift glasses to being at what I consider my favorite restaurant in my beloved home city.

No winners for Portland or New Orleans, unfortunate, but shouldn’t be a slight to these excellent food scenes.

Christina Tosi is the next big thing. Well, she already is in foodie circles a celebrity, but I’m talking Mario Batali neighborhood soon. Her creativity and down to earth personality hits everyone in the room, even when you’re just meeting her at a bake sale like yours truly last year.

Like the Oscars, the James Beards are a tad bit conservative. The gastropubs, the modernist temples…not receiving too much attention.

You’ll be seeing lots of chef memoirs similar to Hamilton’s soon. You’ll also be seeing lots more of the innovative east-west/omakase style seen at winners O Ya and Uchi/Uchiko in Austin, Texas.

Wrapping up on this Tuesday, being in a New York state of mind, here is Adam Platt’s review of NoMad, from Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park.

In a New York and Portland state of mind, the first review is in for Atera in TriBeca, the restaurant from Matthew Lightner, formerly of Noma, Mugaritz, and most recently behind the stoves at the longtime Portland, Oregon stand-by Castagna. I didn’t get the chance to visit Castagna last week, but trusted wine-making friends from the city who are on the pulse of the restaurant scene told me the new chef Justin Woodward is continuing the excellence from Lightner before him.

Pete Wells of The New York Times crafted last week a most beautiful and insightful article on Craig Claiborne, in honor of Claiborne’s   . The most important part of Claiborne’s legacy: “…it also leads to thousands of Americans treating each meal not as mere nourishment, and not as a reinforcement of social status, but as a chance to taste something new and wonderful.”

From The Times as well, we conclude on an operatic note…yet one with food. Being a foodie and an actor- broadcaster over here, it’s fun to here all about food preparations for on stage. Many times I have had to drink something on stage, yet it always is a variation on water (never sparkling). Luckily, I have never had to eat anything more challenging than an apple, though I’ve been in productions where actors eat Falstaff-ian meals that would make me take a nap at intermission. Something I have had to do that is just as bad as eating on stage: smoking (herbal cigarettes).

Even worse than smoking or eating on stage: performing a monologue in 50 degree water in Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses. At least I got to perform the monologue in the water, the other cast mates had to sit in the water watching me. Like dogs and kids, water and food are never easy on stage…

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