If you’re planning to eat at one of the best restaurants in America, tonight might not be the best time to go. Industry luminaries came out in full force last night for the annual James Beard Awards, and they’ll surely have the hangovers to prove it today.
The evening started with the ceremony, hosted by Oliver Platt and featuring cameos from the likes of Padma and Andrew Zimmern, followed by a grand tasting in Avery Fisher Hall, with grub ranging from Todd English sushi inspired by Jiro Dreams of Sushi (never any shame in that man’s game) to Gabriel Rucker’s acorn crêpes with buffalo heart and corn, inspired by Dances with Wolves. Then the drinking really began, with after-parties kicking off at Del Posto, Eleven Madison Park, the Spotted Pig, and other big-name restaurants around the city. Shout out to the staff that cleaned those places up this morning—legends.
Here’s a quick recap of the night, plus a list of all of the winners.
1. New York had a good year.
It’s always a blow to NYC’s firm belief in its preeminence as a restaurant town when it doesn’t sweep every national James Beard Award cateogry. This year, though, the local contingent should be feeling pretty good about itself after taking home some of the evening’s top prizes, including Rising Star Chef (Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese), Outstanding Pastry Chef (Brooks Headley of Del Posto), Outstanding Restauranteur (Maguy Le Coze of Le Bernardin) , Outstanding Service (Del Posto), and Outstanding Restaurant (Blue Hill), and Outstanding Chef (David Chang tied with Paul Kahan of Blackbird in Chicago).
2. Craft beer did not.
Aside from a big-brand sponsor each year, beer is pretty much completely absent from the James Beard Awards. No one talks about, no one drinks it, and no one seems to care. This year, however, it at least had a shot at getting some shine with two stellar nominees—Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery—up for the Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional award. Alas, Merry Edwards of Merry Edwards Winery nabbed that one—maybe next year!
3. Best kicks of the evening was a toss-up between Mario Batali and Danny Bowien.
Needless to say, Batali came through with the signature orange Crocs, which popped even louder than usual against a pair of black tuxedo pants. Yet Mission Chinese chef Danny Bowien turned the most heads with his shiny Jordan XIs. When I asked him if he was trying to one-up Batali, he said definitely not and noted that Mario is a bit of a style inspiration for him: “I can get away with wearing shorts now because Mario wear shorts,” he laughed. As for the story behind the Js: “Jordan wanted these shoes in patent leather because he wore them to press conferences and stuff, almost like dress shoes. I wanted these for 15 years so yesterday I splurged and finally got them.” Just to be clear though, these are red-carpet joints only: “They’re horrible kitchen shoes—I wear Jordans all the time but I can’t wear them in the kitchen because it’s too slippery.”
Who smashed the kick game? YOU DECIDE:
4. The best part of the James Beard Awards by far is the camaraderie between chefs and their staff.
It’s easy to get jaded about the glitzy ceremony, the industry glad-handing, and the awards themselves. But then you go to Del Posto and see Mark Ladner and Wylie Dufresne high-fiving dishwashers and posing for photos with bus boys. Or you see young cooks who work their asses off every day on the line pounding beers at Momofuku or dancing on tables at EMP. That’s when you realize that this night is for them, and that after a few stops on the after-party circuit, you should probably go home and leave the booze-soaked debauchery to the folks who earned it.
5. Food in hip-hop will be the theme of the 2020 James Beard Awards, just watch.
This year’s awards theme was Food & Film, and it was hosted by Oliver Platt after Stanley Tucci had to drop out. Clearly, the James Beard Foundation is trying hard to work the pop culture angle and reach new audiences, so it’s only a matter of time before hip hop takes over and Action Bronson gets called up for MCing duties.
6. Martha Stewart is ridiculously good-looking in person.
Blurry photo here—find a better one on Match.com!
7. When surrounded by fancy hors d’oeuvres, food-world luminaries like to eat cheeseburgers.
And how could they not when presented with this glorious, American cheese-oozing double slider from former JBA winner (and current Chipotle don) Nate Appleman. Seriously, this thing was absurdly tasty, and I may or may not have eaten five of them:
8. Lidia Bastianich gives nice toasts.
The doyenne of Italian cuisine in America ascended the stairs at regal central staircase at Del Posto, winner of the Outstanding Service award and home to Outstanding Pastry Chef Brooks Headley, and expressed her gratitude to the staff who make the place a four-star destination. She was soon joined in her party-starting duties by Del Posto chef Mark Ladner, plus Wylie Dufresne and Emeril Lagasse. A cool food moment, for sure.
9. I ate a piece of braised octopus from Cafe Boulud’s Gavin Kaysen that, as one Instagram commenter pointed out, TOTALLY LOOKS LIKE A SQUIRREL WITH ITS ARM RAISED:
Can’t Stop. Looking.
10. The Eleven Madison Park/NoMad party got broken up by the cops.
EMP has a repuation for throwing the wildest JBA after-party each year, usually involving ’90s rap blasting, champagne spraying, and people dancing on banquettes in the restaurant’s grand dining room. This year the team hosted a loft party near the NoMad, which got broken up by the cops around 2am, thus solidifying their rep as the hardest-partying haute-cuisine masterminds in the game.
Here’s a little video recap from the James Beard Foundation:
Next page: See all the winners!