The James Beard Foundation livened up its restaurants awards ceremony at Lincoln Center last night with emcee Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City's Samantha) jingling across the stage in a sparkly gold dress that showed nearly as much skin as the sushi scene in her new movie. Cattrall shared the honors with Food Network star Bobby Flay, and the ceremonies were one big parade of food-biz celebs, including Thomas Keller, Rick Bayless, Tom Colicchio, Danny Meyer, and more.
The big national winners were Chef of the Year Grant Achatz (pictured above--his name rhymes with “rackets," if you want to discuss this at the water cooler) the creative force behind Alinea in Chicago who recently survived stage IV tongue cancer and was the subject of this New Yorker profile. The Award for Outstanding Restaurant (with a decade or more in the business) went to Gramercy Tavern in New York City and Best New Restaurant to Central Michel Richard in Washington, DC.
Though Minneapolis was represented in the Best Chef Midwest category by Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery, Tim McKee of La Belle Vie and Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma, Adam Siegel of Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro in Milwaukee was named the winner. While it was great to see three nominees in our category, I'm afraid it may have split the votes from Twin Cities judges, leaving Siegel to garner more votes due to his restaurant's proximity to Chicago-area judges.
St. Paul's own Splendid Table won the Radio Food Show category, so kudos host Lynne Rossetto Kasper, managing producer Sally Swift, and the rest of the American Public Media staff.
For me, the best part of the event was seeing people I've talked to on the phone (David Wondrich, whose new tome about pioneering bartender Jerry Thomas won the wine and spirits book category) or whose restaurants I've enjoyed (Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson were as cute as their Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, and brought their infant up to accept their Best Pastry Chef award) and learning more about the work of Humanitarian Award Winner Frances Moore Lappé, who wrote Diet for a Small Planet, and Lifetime Achievement Award winner Fritz Maytag, owner of Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco (they make Anchor Steam) and Maytag blue cheese in Iowa.
Though ticket prices are steep, the awards are open to the public, and while the ceremony itself can drone on a bit, the reception afterword is a great chance to sample foods from notable restaurants around the country (my two faves: a highbrow meatloaf from Paul Newman's Dressing Room restaurant and strawberry sorbet with candied mint leaves and rose petals from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse) and have the chance to talk with chefs whose work you admire.