If you are wondering why the Empire State Building glowed orange and yellow last night, it was in honor of the 25th anniversary of the James Beard Foundation Awards. Orange for the tomato soup James Beard loved and yellow for the pineapple of hospitality wallpaper that he had. The food stars were out last night for the Oscars of the restaurant world. I stood in line on the red carpet next to Wolfgang Puck, the recipient of last night’s lifetime achievement award and man of the hour. Many top chefs were in attendance last night, including Thomas Keller; Daniel Boulud; Charlie Trotter, winner of the 2012 humanitarian of the year award; and last year’s outstanding chef, Jose Andres.
The awards, hosted for the second time by Alton Brown, kicked off with an excerpt of a play based on James Beard, I Love to Eat by playwright James Still, followed by an awesome awards show. Duff Goldman, the Ace of Cakes, presented his cake, a replica of the James Beard Foundation building. I would say the most shocking moment of the awards was a tie for the best chef of the Southeast with both Hugh Acheson and Linton Hopkins having to share the spotlight. I was happy to see La Grenouille win for outstanding service. Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park won for outstanding chef. Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern won best chef in NYC. Coca-Cola sponsored America’s Classics, giving awards to restaurants across the country that represent classic American fare. The Fry Bread House in Phoenix, Shady Glen in Connecticut, Jones Bar-B-Q Diner in Arkansas, St. Elmo Steak House in Indiana and Nora’s Fish Creek Inn in Wyoming won. After seeing video of the cheeseburgers and vanilla ice cream at Shady Glen and the pancakes and trout and eggs at Nora’s and fry bread sandwiches at Fry Bread House and barbecue with secret sauce at Jones and hot shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo’s, I feel a road trip is in order.
After the three-hour program, we were all anxious to try the delights prepared by well-known chefs, all interpreting James Beard’s dishes. Sarabeth Levine’s take on James Beard’s shortcake:
Gary Danko’s blini topped with melt-in-your-mouth smoked salmon and Pacific Plaza caviar: