By S. Irene Virbila
11:34 AM PDT, May 7, 2013
The James Beard Foundation Awards -- the Academy Awards of the food world -- were distributed Monday night in New York, and it was a victory for women but a shutout for Southern California.
The winner for outstanding chef, the last award in a long, eventful gala, was a tie between David Chang of New York's Momofuku Noodle Bar and Paul Kahan of Chicago's Blackbird.
Both are terrific chefs. Yet it was a sad moment for some of us. Neither L.A. nominees -- Suzanne Goin and Nancy Silverton -- carried home the award, which sealed the SoCal shutout.
And yet 2013 turned out to be a banner year for female chefs (just not ours), who won three best chef awards: Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat in Chicago, Melissa Kelly of Primo in Maine and Jennifer Jasinski of Rioja in Denver. It was a long long way from the early days of the awards, when it was hard to find a woman who was a nominee, let alone a winner.
The theme of this year's awards was food and the movies, which was carried through with the old-fashioned 3-D glasses that came with with the program and the fast-paced video romp through favorite food scenes from flicks. And the chefs cooking for the event, including David Myers of L.A.'s Hinoki & the Bird and Nancy Silverton and Matt Molina of Osteria Mozza in Hollywood, riffed on dishes from various movies.
It was fun to see chefs cleaned up and going for the glam look in proper tuxes and gowns.
Alison Cook, restaurant critic for the Houston Chronicle, tweeted from Mission Chinese where she had lunch that she saw the parents of Danny Bowien -- a nominee for the Beard award rising star chef -- all dressed up and heading out to the event. (He won.) Sweet.
Maguy Le Coze of New York's Le Bernadin looked incredibly chic as only the French can in a long, sequined gown and fur shrug as she accepted the award for best restaurateur. L.A.'s nominees were Piero Selvaggio of Valentino and Caroline Styne of Lucques et al.
And Cecilia Chiang was resplendent in a red brocade Chinese dress to receive her lifetime achievement award. The 94-year-old from Shanghai founded the Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco in 1960. She said it was little known, but James Beard loved Chinese food. "His mother had a Chinese cook."
For me, the highlights of any Beard Award ceremony are the four awards for "America's classics," meant to honor restaurants serving traditional regional food. Speeches from these award-winners are always the best. They almost always speak with emotion, passion and a genuine thrill. And in film clips that introduce each award, we get a glimpse into an America of longstanding tradition and service.
This year we were taken into Keen's Steakhouse in New York City, Frank Fat's in Sacramento, Prince's Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, C.F. Folks in Washington, and Kramarczuk's in Minneapolis.
Orest Kramarczuk, who has worked in the Ukrainian restaurant and sausage company since he was 3, became teary-eyed as he thanked his son and daughter, the third generation, and told the audience that the secret to a loyal staff is to treat them like human beings.
In accepting the award for outstanding restaurant for 14-year-old Blue Hill in New York City, Dan Barber brought much of his staff up on stage. He noted that the young Mexican man who cleaned the restaurant each night so well it seemed like new in the morning was now the pastry chef. And the kid who started out by making salads was now the chef, and so many others had been with Blue Hill since the beginning. It was a lovely, if long-winded, moment.
And so it went. Let's hope for better next year, L.A.