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Inside the James Beard Awards

Some might compare Monday's James Beard Foundation Awards to the Oscars. There's a red carpet. And a stage. But this is a celebration of people who feed your appetite for fine food, not just entertainment. It's a gathering of the tight-knit world of well-respected, well-fed luminaries of the restaurant world. While heavy on the New York representation -- perhaps simply a matter of home turf -- there was still a sense that chefs from DC were catching up with their friends in Boston, that Seattleites were making dates to head down to San Francisco.

With open bars and chef stations across the two floors of the gala, one thing was clear: people were having fun.

The evening began with red carpet arrivals, despite a light drizzle and sub-optimal temperatures. The awards ceremony began at 6pm on a busy stage in Avery Fisher Hall. By 9 pm, the silver medals hung around well-deserved necks and we headed for some nibbles and a sip of Perrier-Jouet Champagne.

If there were any trends at the dinner stations -- of which were were at least 25 -- it was this: crawfish, grilled cheese and chowders. A trend towards comfort food? Regional American cuisine? Creatures from the sea? Whatever drove chefs to invent the crawfish croque monsieur or the Dungeness crab Reuben sandwich, I don't care. It was all delicious.

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