Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Volunteer at the James Beard Awards

I wonder if film students in L.A. get to volunteer at the Oscars?

Because that is what it felt like for me volunteering last night at the 2011 James Beard Awards Gala.

I was so lucky to be teamed up with the chefs from Clio Restaurant in Boston. They were a bunch of very laid back tattooed all over kind of guys. But best of all, they had done all their food prep in Boston and brought their amazing white curry trip dish ready for service. So I had hours and hours to wander around before they needed help plating to serve the 1,800 guests.

Preparations for the James Beard Awards Gala at Avery Fisher Hall 

I saw Food Network star Anne Burrell talking on her cell phone on the Red Carpet waiting to get into the event. Bobby Flay signed my program after I babbled something about loving Throwdown and eating at Mesa Grill for my birthday. I had a Jersey Pride moment when Chef Vola's in Atlantic City was recognized as an American Classic.

Anne Burrell outside Lincoln Center

One of my favorite moments was Gabrielle Hamilton's acceptance speech for Best Chef in New York City. In talking about how much she loved her profession, she exclaimed: "We don't spill oil on the shore line. We don't rob people of their money. It's pretty honest work.''

That kinda summed up why I enrolled in Culinary School after working for 14 years as a reporter. Chefs make people happy. They expose us to new cultures and new ideas. They feed the hungry and the sick. Sometimes I feel like studying baking and pastry is a totally self indulgent and I worry that my life won't be any different when I am done. But I believe people who cook for a living do important things, shape our relationships with food, and are part of an amazing tradition that goes back to ancient times. And hopefully I will have a shot at doing something memorable like starting the next great dessert trend.

In case you haven't realized it, I am totally star struck. Last night I got to be part of the biggest event of the year in the food world. I got to sample creations from some of the best chef's in the country. But now it's time for this aspiring pastry chef to come down from cloud nine and head back to my paying job.

If I am lucky tonight I will have time to grab a slice of pizza from a restaurant in a Jersey strip mall before heading to cover a school board meeting. But I will probably still have a big smile on my face remembering all the fun I had last night.

Complete list of James Beard 2011 Award winners: 

Best New Restaurant
ABC Kitchen, New York City; Chef/Owner: Jean-Georges Vongerichten; Owner: Phil Suarez

Outstanding Chef Award
José Andrés, minibar, Washington, D.C.

Outstanding Pastry Chef Award
Angela Pinkerton, Eleven Madison Park, New York City

Outstanding Restaurant Award
Eleven Madison Park, New York City; Owner: Danny Meyer

Outstanding Restaurateur Award
Richard Melman, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Chicago

Outstanding Service Award
Per Se, New York City, Chef/Owner: Thomas Keller

Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional Award
Julian P. Van Winkle, III; Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, Louisville

Outstanding Wine Service Award
The Modern, New York City; Wine Director: Belinda Chang

Rising Star Chef of the Year Award
Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.

Best Chef: Great Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio)
Alex Young, Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia)
Michael Solomonov, Zahav, Philadelphia

Best Chef: Midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin)
Isaac Becker, 112 Eatery, Minneapolis

Best Chef: New York City
Gabrielle Hamilton, Prune, New York City

Best Chef: Northeast (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York excluding the five boroughs of New York City, Rhode Island, Vermont)
Tony Maws, Craigie On Main, Cambridge, Mass.

Best Chef: Northwest (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming)
Andy Ricker, Pok Pok, Portland, Ore.

Best Chef: Pacific (California, Hawaii)
Michael Tusk, Quince, San Francisco

Best Chef: South (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi)
Stephen Stryjewski, Cochon, New Orleans

Best Chef: Southeast (Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia)
Andrea Reusing, Lantern, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Best Chef: Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah)
Saipin Chutima, Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas, and Tyson Cole, Uchi, Austin, Tex. (tie)

Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America Inductees
Jonathan Gold, Writer, LA Weekly, Los Angeles
Lee Jones, Farmer/ Owner, Chef’s Garden, Huron, Ohio
Charles Phan, Chef/Owner, The Slanted Door, San Francisco
Frank Stitt, Chef/Owner, Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham, Ala.
Nick Valenti, CEO, Patina Restaurant Group, New York City

America’s Classics Awards
Chef Vola’s, Atlantic City, N.J.; Owners: Louise Esposito, Michael Esposito, Michael Esposito Jr., Louis Esposito
Crook’s Corner, Chapel Hill, NC; Owner: Gene Hamer
Noriega Restaurant and Hotel, Bakersfield, Calif., Owners: Linda Elizalde McCoy and Rochelle Ladd
Le Veau d’Or, New York City; Owner: Robert Tréboux
Watts Tea Shop, Milwaukee; President and CEO: Sam Watts

Lifetime Achievement Award
Kevin Zraly

Humanitarian of the Year

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