Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Who crashed the James Beard Awards?

The annual weekend surrounding the James Beard Awards in New York is an all-you-can eat feast of events, parties, gatherings and just plain dashing around. A few highlights from this year:

North Carolina went 1 for 3 in the final medal count. Ashley Christensen of Pooles Diner et al in Raleigh brought home a much-deserved win as Best Chef Southeast, but Vivian Howard of The Chef & the Farmer in Kinston missed a broadcast award for her PBS show "A Chef's Life" (some consolation: It already won a Peabody), and Katie Button of Curate in Asheville was nominated but didn't win for Rising Star Chef. That last most have been tough voting: It was one of two ties of the night, between Jimmy Bannos of the Purple Pig in Chicago and Blaine Wetzel of The Willows Inn on Lummi Island in Washington. (Phoebe Lawless of Scratch Baking in Durham also was one of the chefs featured at the Friday night Books, Broadcast and Journalism awards, with a buckwheat stack cake that featured N.C. strawberries.)

Christensen also played a role in a winning-chef roster that is being hailed as the Year of the Women, with several key wins for female chefs, including April Bloomfield (The Breslin, The Spotted Pig and the John Dory) taking Best Chef New York, Nancy Silverton winning Outstanding Chef for Pizzeria Mozza in L.A., Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland taking Best Chef Northwest, and Sue Zemanick of  Gautreau's in New Orleans in a tie with Ryan Prewitt of Peche Seafood Grill, also in New Orleans, for Best Chef South.

The real eye-catcher in that lineup to me, though, was Barbara Lynch of Boston (No. 9 Park, among others), who won Outstanding Restauteur. It wasn't just Lynch's win that was striking, it was the moment when the nominees were displayed: Lynch, Donnie Madia of Chicago (Blackbird and others), Cindy Pawlcyn of Napa Valley (Mustards Grill and others), Caroline Styne of Los Angeles (Lucques) and Phil Suarez of New York (ABC Kitchen, Jean-Georges and more).

Maybe it's time that Time magazine did another version of its controversial all-male chefs cover story, The Gods of Food. There are some goddesses out there, too, and they are bringing it.

And one more North Carolinian takes my own personal award for audacity: At the Southern Foodways Alliance annual lunch on the day of the Beard Awards gala, I ended up at the funniest table in the room, with Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff of Big Gay Ice Cream (they're getting ready to do a trip through the South this summer, starting in Raleigh and heading to Charleston), Phil Colicchio, the lawyer/business whiz and cousin of Tom Colicchio, and Raleigh musician Joe Kwon, the cellist for the Avett Brothers.

Joe Kwon is known for his love of cooking (as my colleague Helen Schwab has written) and his easygoing nature. He told me he was planning to go to the awards gala at Lincoln Center that night, and had his tux and a hat bigger than Pharrell's ready to go. What he didn't have: A ticket. Given the tight security (and the price - tickets generally go for $450), I was doubtful, but John T. Edge assured me later that Joe is famous for talking his way into places.

Sure enough, in the packed crowd after the show, there he was, happily taking selfies with anyone who wanted and sporting a chef's pass in his pocket. I have no idea whose it was, but dude, I'm officially  impressed.