A Night at the 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards

The brand-new Boulud Sud was one of many NYC restaurants that hosted after-parties for the 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards
The brand-new Boulud Sud was one of many NYC restaurants that hosted after-parties for the 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards

by Meryl Pearlstein

The theme of this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards, which took place Monday night at Lincoln Center’s Fisher Hall in New York City, was “Melting Pot,” paying homage to the expansion of international street food and cuisine. Kicking off the evening with a “green carpet” parade of nominees, the 21st annual awards ceremony was hosted by James Beard Award winners Tom Colicchio, Ming Tsai and Traci Des Jardins, who introduced the presenters of this year’s awards. The multicultural mood ran through the entire night, with nominees and winners representing a diverse background, and was also showcased in the gala tasting that followed the ceremony.

“Melting Pot” was also evident in this year’s choice of America’s Classics restaurants, commended for their lasting contribution to the restaurant scene and including Chef Vola’s (Italian) in Atlantic City, Le Veau d’Or (French) in New York City, and Noriega Restaurant (Basque) in Bakersfield, California.

For New Yorkers (and our beloved Danny Meyer, owner of Eleven Madison Park, in particular), the evening was an enormous success, with the city’s stars represented in wins for “Outstanding Restaurant” (Eleven Madison Park), “Best New Restaurant” (Jean-Georges Vongerichten‘s ABC Kitchen), “Outstanding Pastry Chef” (Angela Pinkerton, also of Eleven Madison Park), “Outstanding Service” (Per Se), and “Outstanding Wine Service” (The Modern). Female chefs and restaurateurs were also notable winners this year with Angela Pinkerton of Eleven Madison Park scoring for “Outstanding Pastry Chef,” Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune winning as “Outstanding Chef — New York City,” Andrea Reusing of Chapel Hill‘s Lantern selected as “Outstanding Chef — Southeast,” and Belinda Chang of New York City’s The Modern lauded for wine service.

In a rare occurrence, there was a tie for “Outstanding Chef — Southwest” with Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas sharing the prize with Tyson Cole of Austin‘s Uchi. It was a shame that this honor could not have been acknowledged with humility by Mr. Cole, whose comments were less than gracious. Rising Star Chef of the Year was Gabriel Rucker of Portland, Oregon‘s Le Pigeon, winning one of two awards for a Portland-based restaurant.

(Complete list of winners)

Not surprisingly, the awards ceremony was followed by an incredible feast. The food and wine extravaganza featured international tastes ranging from sweet and savory steamed Thai rice cakes of pumpkin, melon and banana from Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon, the winner for “Outstanding Chef — Northwest;” to octopus carpaccio with Santorini fava beans, bulgur-stuffed grape leaves, and Greek red caviar mousse from Kyma in Atlanta; to Fermin jamón Ibérico de bellota with American caviar from José Andrésminibar in Washington, DC, the evening’s James Beard Foundation Awards winner for “Outstanding Chef.”

Luckily, we saved some room for the after-parties, held at some winning venues and other locations eager to get in on the action. We made it to Daniel Boulud‘s brand-new Boulud Sud, which opens to the public today, where we sampled Mediterranean delicacies and artisanal cocktails; and his Epicerie Boulud, a block away from Lincoln Center. There were also celebrations at Thomas Keller‘s Per Se, Danny Meyer’s The Modern and his Eleven Madison Park, reportedly the craziest event, replete with the now-traditional Champagne spraying.

You can click on each photo to enlarge.

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