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Plat du Jour Tuesday May 7, 2013: 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards

It’s been 24 hours now since the 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony in New York, the “Oscars” of the food world. Hearing about the extensive after-parties across New York last night and this morning, it seems like now the winners can finally pause post-hangover and reflect on last night’s ceremony.

If you can get past the usual arguments about how there is absolutely no way for the Awards to truly be correct since it’s impossible for there to be an actual “best” restaurant or chef, then the James Beards are a very important measuring gauge of where dining is today in the first half of 2013. You also need to get past the strange 3-D fonts on the winners pdf, something I’m less thrilled about.

Best New Restaurant, State Bird Provisions, San Francisco

Best New Restaurant, State Bird Provisions, San Francisco

It’s exciting to see the hard-working chefs, service staffs, and restaurateurs get to dress up and have their big night in New York. They absolutely deserve it.

From here, we raise our glass to last night’s winners, wishing them the best for years to come and thanking them for their relentless desire to ask questions about what and how we eat, coupled with their unwavering pursuit of dining excellence.

Looking back on this year’s Awards, here are some initial observations and analysis:

  • Huge round of applause for Adams Sachs, Bon Appetit‘s “Obsessivore,” and double winner of Best Food and Travel Article and Best Food-Related Column. His writing is always so inventive and poised, and his yakitori story ALMOST made me go out and try to replicate his yakitori experiment.
  • Congratulations to San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions, the Best New Restaurant. My vote would’ve been to Curtis Duffy’s Grace in Chicago. However, if we’re talking game-changers, then State Bird’s modern dim sum inspiration absolutely wins. It’s a restaurant that will be talked about 30 years from now. What a year for them dating back to Bon Appetit‘s Andrew Knowlton’s Fall 2012 proclamation that they were the best new restaurant in the country. The JBF agrees.

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  • Surprise in Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional category to see Merry Edwards defeat big names like Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and master spirits educator and writer David Wondrich. Big win for the wine industry.
  • It almost seems unfair for Aviary to win Outstanding Bar Program, doesn’t it?
  • Huge night for New York’s Del Posto: Brooks Headley named Outstanding Pastry Chef and the restaurant won for Outstanding Service (to me this is always the most impossible category to vote on).
  • Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado wins Outstanding Wine Program. What a restaurant, what a concept. Is it possible to call them under the radar still?

    San Francisco's Mission Chinese Food

    San Francisco’s Mission Chinese Food

  • Is Danny Bowien really a rising star still? To me, he seems more like a rock star. He’s already conquered San Francisco and New York, with Paris next. Even Ducasse hasn’t done that trio.
  • A tie for Outstanding Chef between Momofuku’s David Chang (New York) and Blackbird’s Paul Kahan (Chicago). Two very different, very gifted chefs with distinctive styles. They are also gifted restaurant empire builders, very wisely and methodically expanding with unique concepts. These guys know how to cook and they know the business side too. A rarity.
  • From here, a standing ovation to the Barbers and the Blue Hill team. What a tremendous organization, full of warmth and generosity. Oh yes, so much so the restaurants often get overlooked. Bravo to the JBF for recognizing them. To last this long in the New York restaurant world takes extraordinary determination (the same goes to Outstanding Restaurateur Maguy Le Coze of Le Bernardin).
  • Surprised however that it was the original Blue Hill instead of Blue Hill at Stone Barns nominated in the first place (not eligible since it’s younger than ten years old, but receives much more attention).
  • Spiaggia in Chicago will be next year’s Blue Hill, that too often ignored, constant stalwart.
  • In Outstanding Chef category, very difficult to compare a Sean Brock to a David Chang to a Nancy Silverton. Very different styles.
Tory McPhail's BBQ Shrimp and Grits

Tory McPhail’s BBQ Shrimp and Grits

  • Looking forward to trying my first sausage from “America’s Classic” inductee Kramarczuk’s in Minneapolis next month. They sell them at the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field…James Beard winning ballpark cuisine!
  • Standing ovation for all “Who’s Who” inductees– Eric is certainly one of yours truly’s role models, and meals years ago at Mina’s restaurants and Lynch’s No. 9 helped shape my culinary imagination.
  • Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon soon will be Outstanding Chef, not just Best Chef: Northwest

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  • No winners from Houston, Las Vegas, and once again, Los Angeles. The complaints have already started. At least put Anvil ahead of Aviary for something.
  • For Best Chefs in America, a wide range of restaurant styles: casual, wholesome, creative (Izzard’s Girl & the Goat), modern, hushed, inventive (Dufresne’s wd-50), down home, old school bayou elegance with a little flair (McPhail’s Commander’s Palace), or seasonal ambitious destination tasting menus (Lenn’s Barn at Blackberry Farm, Kostow’s Meadowood). The one common theme to take away from this is regardless of price point, chefs are really pushing the concept of “personal cuisine.”
  • You’ll be hearing a lot more about Jennifer Jasinski and Colby Garrelts, long overdue awards for those two who helped put Denver and Kansas City on the map before the bandwagons did.
  • Biggest Surprise? It has to be Izard defeating Dave Beran (Next) for Best Chef: Great Lakes.
  • Be sure to read Fuchsia Dunlop’s “London Town.” Then again, all of each issue of Lucky Peach is required reading if I were teaching a class.
Gabriel Rucker's Signature Beef Cheek Bourguignon

Gabriel Rucker’s Signature Beef Cheek Bourguignon

  • Bravo, bravo Tejal Rao of Village Voice, the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award winner.
  • Andrew Zimmern can’t be stopped.
  • It’s a great awards show when Anthony Bourdain and Charles Osgood both win.

Congratulations to the winners and nominees!

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