Beard Post-Mortem

I'm exhausted. The night of the Beard Awards I end up hanging out at various after-parties until three in the morning. A couple of things I wanted to mention:

The Beard Awards were much more emotionally resonant this year because we dedicated them to New Orleans. The live music was great (for the first time), the recorded music they used to accompany the winners' stroll to the podium was all amazing old New Orleans r and b (think Louis Jordan's Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens), and the food (all from New Orleans chefs) at the reception was real, honest and soulful. I had way too much of Willie Mae Seaton's transcendent fried chicken, and I would have had seconds and probably thirds of Leah Chase's gumbo if I had the chance.

The Beard Awards are interesting for another reason. Unlike the Oscars and the Grammys, where admission is restricted to members, anyone willing plunk down the money can go to the Beard Awards. What you find if do spend the money is a pretty boring three hour ceremony punctuated by moments of real emotion, and a crowded reception in which you stand on-line for tasting plates of foods from a dozen or so chefs. But the fact that anyone can go means that real people get to hobknob with the greatest chefs in the country and the world. You can clink glasses with Thomas Keller or Tom Colichhio or Todd English.

The best part of the Beard Awards are the America's Classics awards, which to me are much more interesting and resonant than another chef making a foie gras preparation with rhubard compote.

This year's America's Classics ranged from Barney Greengrass in NY

to Taylor's Refresher in Napa and SF

to Lagomarcino's Candy Shop and Counter in Moline, Illinois.

The fact that Willie Mae Seaton was awarded an America's Classic last year and then ended up cooking her fried chicken at the awards this year, is an indication of the best of what the James Beard Foundation has to offer. That is, the foundation offers props and recognition to people like Willie Mae, who have been cooking with passion and great skill for 75 years now.