The 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards, those Oscars of the food world, were handed out in New York Monday evening, and a perennial nominee took home a well-deserved prize: Richard Melman, head honcho of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises received the Outstanding Restaurateur Award.
The man who presided at the birth of restaurants ranging from R.J. Grunts and Scoozi!, to Everest and L20, plus more than three dozen restaurants across the country, won the award besting fellow nominees Phil Suarez (ABC Kitchen, Jean Georges, etc.), the Bromberg brothers Bruce and Eric (Blue Ribbon Restaurants), Pat Kuleto (Boulevard, Epic Roasthouse, etc.), and Tom Douglas (Dahlia Bakery, Serious Pie, etc.).
The awards ceremony, hosted by Tom Colicchio, Traci Des Jardins and Ming Tsai, was held in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. A complete
of the chefs, sommeliers, restaurateurs and food industry professionals honored, is on the Beard Foundation website.
Melman has been opening restaurants since he threw open the doors on R.J. Grunts in 1971, serving up a mix of the witty (Café Ba-Ba-Reeba!, Big Bowl, Shaw’s Crab House, Wow Bao plus Las Vegas' Stripburger) to such haute spots as Everest, L20, Mon Ami Gabi, and TRU as well as Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas.
Back in 1971, though, a Chicago Tribune columnist steered clear of Grunts for months because, as she wrote “We disliked the name of the restaurant so much.” Eventually, she visited Grunts calling it “a pleasant departure from the usual restaurant, an amiable kind of meeting ground for youthful long hair and establishment.” She dissed the “nonsense mixed into the wording of the menu” but applauded the “generous salad-appetizer buffet” and its focus on freshly prepared foods.