The James Beard Awards
A glittering awards night that ended dancing on the banquets until 5 A.M.
The Bar at the NoMad Hotel, my favorite Manhattan boite, won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program. NoMad’s library bar, where guests sit in a turn-of-century salon with two stories of trompe l’oeil book shelves reminiscent of Trinity Library in Dublin, has craft cocktails made to perfection and a pretty crowd made for outstanding people watching. It was one of the early awards and it kicked off a celebratory night which included the 3 ½ hour awards show at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, the after-feast with top chefs’ small plates and flowing Mumm and Henriot Champagne, a flood of wines from Rioja, Napa, Alsace, the Rhone, Provence and Argentina. After-parties were scattered throughout restaurants and clubs in the city lasting until five in the morning.
The after parties are always a key factor in calculating the success of the night and give braggadocio rights to those invited, who, for weeks, detail the wildness, the booziness and the proverbial “dancing on the banquets” till the wee hours. The parties are thrown by the nominated restaurants who anticipate a win. Like with a political election night, many nominated restaurants prepare just in case and then call off the party if the results are not in their favor.
This year there were three key parties to which you either had to be invited with a ticket or get the address through insider’s word of mouth. The locations were kept hush-hush till the last moment. With the best friend and restaurant critic accompanying me, we were privy to the secret addresses. First we hit Toro Restaurant on 16th Street and 11th Avenue. The Toro party was celebrating the win, for Best Chef Northeast, of chef Jamie Bissonette of Coppa in Boston. Then it was onto Acme on Great Jones Street for a joint fiesta thrown by the Momofuku gang and the folks behind restaurants Carbone and Torrisi. And finally we hit our stride and settled in on the last stop. The Eleven Madison team, who also own The NoMad, threw the party of the night at the Highline Ballroom with live band and dance-on-the-banquets till dawn.
The James Beard Awards, the food and restaurant industry’s equivalent of the Academy Awards, which took place on Monday May 5th on a warm sunny day, was certainly one of the liveliest and most enjoyable in memory. TV personality Ted Allen was the Master of Ceremonies and Mario Batali, in his signature orange clogs, his side-kick moderator. The theme was “Sounds of the City,” which linked the music and food culture. Each winner strutted up to the stage with food-inspired songs befitting the award or region of the U.S. Singer and star of the hit Food Network show, Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, Trisha Yearwood performed as did Holly Williams and Chris Coleman from Nashville with a guitar duo.
Another award, Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional, went to a local boy, Garrett Oliver for his Brooklyn Brewery, Williamsburg’s hotspot for the beer loving community where Brooklyn Brown Ale, Brooklyn Blast and Brewmaster’s Reserve Scorcher #366 are the talk of the town. The coveted main wine award, Outstanding Wine Service, went to The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee. It’s on my hit list for a visit and review this summer.
Highlights of the Awards ceremony are always the videos for “American Classics,” beloved community restaurants which have been in business for generations and the moving speeches from the various award recipients. Hansen’s Sno-Bliz in New Orleans (long time sellers of flavored sno-cones) and Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Texas provided irresistible tear-jerker moments.
Mayor Bloomberg came out to announce the Lifetime Achievement Award and the crowd cheered him warmly. The Mayor has always been a good friend of the restaurant world. He spoke about his friend, Sirio Maccioni, Le Cirque’s iconic charming owner, who took the prestigious award. The excellent video of Maccioni’s career and with many glimpses of the handsome younger Sirio holding court each night to a full house glittering with celebrities was worth the price of admission (which, incidentally, is $475 a ticket).