Going into the James Beard Foundation Awards weekend, I can always count on two things happening: putting on my tux, which to my wife's amusement, requires her assistance (why do cumberbunds exist, anyway?) and seeing chefs and food writer friends from all over the country that I rarely get to see otherwise.
The actual awards ceremony is rather dull, unless, as Seattle uber-chef Tom Douglas pointed out to me, you win one. On the other hand, the after-parties, official and otherwise, are usually much more fun. Winners wear their medals as they eat, drink, and make merry with food industry peers.
This year's winners—some surprising, others not—were a worthy and deserving crew. I liked the fact that there was a tie for Outstanding Chef between Chicagoan Paul Kahan, a chef's chef whose food I absolutely adore, and David Chang, whose restless culinary intellect has profoundly affected the food culture. Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food was an equally worthy winner of the Rising Star Chef Award. Danny's food is a rare combination of thoughtful, playful, and seriously delicious.
I have long been an admirer of Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon, who I think is a very soulful cook whose food has tons of character, so he was another winner (of the Best Chef Northwest Award) that I was unabashedly rooting for. I have also been singing the praises of Del Posto's pastry chef Brooks Headley for years now, so I was thrilled when he won the Best Pastry Chef Award. Brooks is so good, he makes eggplant seen like a logical dessert ingredient. That's quite a feat.
So let's raise a glass to this year's winners, and here's hoping that this year's disappointed losers will win next year, because, let's face it, chefs and food journalists just want to have fun, too, and it's a lot more fun when you win. More party pics in the slideshow!