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James Beard Awards 2014 'Sounds of the City' celebration at Met Opera

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It’s said that music is the food of love.

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At last night’s annual James Beard Foundation Awards whose theme was “Sounds of the City,” there was palpable heart-thumping love at the crossroads of culinary and musical art.

The event highlighted the “harmony of food and song.”

The James Beard Foundation President, Susan Ungaro, welcomed the 2014 sold-out audience at the Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater, sharing what is perhaps a bit of unknown James Beard lore. Ungaro told how Mr. Beard came to the Big Apple to make it on Broadway and at the Metropolitan Opera. To pay the rent, he did what most up and coming artists do – worked in restaurants. However, his work in the food businesses, waiting tables and writing cookbooks and magazines articles, and teaching cooking, took Mr. Beard to a different kind of stage.

Last night, Mr. Beard must’ve been hitting all the high C’s as he finally made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera house.

It was a dazzling event. From the red carpet backdropped by the soaring Lincoln Center fountain to the awards celebration set in the Met’s grand, tiered lobby with food and drink provided by the industry’s best chefs and makers.

The ceremony was hosted by two culinary stars: the Award-winning TV personality and multiple James Beard Award winner Ted Allen and multiple James Beard Award winning chef, author and restaurateur Mario Batali.

Chef Mario boasted “big boy pants” for the occasion; and his signature orange crocs.

Chef Mario revealed he will be hosting a new TV Show, “Feedback Kitchen” where he and chefs will be cooking with musical icons.

In writing her top-selling book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook, this Examiner was often told by the chefs how the music played in the kitchen characterizes a chef. The culinary pros suggested: think Tom Colicchio as “Eric Clapton” and Mario Batali as “Jimmy Page.”

Rock, Country, or opera, what the 2014 James Beard award winning chefs had in their playlists was equally revealing about their kitchen cooking style.

And more culinary music trivia: Did you know that Charlie Trotter, the multiple James Beard award winning chef who did last year, was named for Charlie Parker?

Highlights from this year’s list of winners include:

  • Outstanding Chef: Nancy Silverton, Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles. Demonstrating great poise and wit, Silverton (who wore her sunglasses on stage) pointed out that the job of a great chef is to inspire others. She believes she does that. Moreover, she thanked Chef Jonathan Waxman her mentor and the first chef she worked for. Class act. And she thanked her partners, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. (Is there any food enterprise that these Italian heroes are not involved in??)
  • Outstanding Restaurant: The Slanted Door, San Francisco. This is a great American immigrant story, filled with good food, loyal staff and customers and hard work.
  • Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional: Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery. A hands-down favorite, this Examiner was Tweeting his name as winner before it was announced. See earlier Examiner coverage of Brooklyn Brewery and Lior Lev Secarz spice beer http://www.examiner.com/article/spice-it-up-brooklyn-brewery-premieres-b...
  • Outstanding Pastry Chef: Dominique Ansel, Dominique Ansel Bakery, NYC
  • Outstanding Restaurateur: Barbara Lynch, Barbara Lynch Gruppo (No. 9 Park, Menton, B&G Oysters, and others), Boston
  • Rising Star Chefs: For the first time, there was a tie: Jimmy Bannos Jr., The Purple Pig, Chicago, and Blaine Wetzel, The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Lummi Island, WA
  • Best New Restaurant: Pêche Seafood Grill, New Orleans
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Sirio Maccioni (Restaurateur, NYC)
  • Best Chef New York City: April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig. Bloomfield had her Girl Power team on stage with her and spoke clearly and with authority about food and work at the Spotted Pig and John Dory. She thanked her partners, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, joking and that she first got the job because Jamie Oliver turned it down.
  • Outstanding Bar Program: The NoMad Hotel team bounded onto the stage to the strains of “Twist & Shout’s” Shake it up baby…

In addition, special achievement award honorees included:

  • Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America: Edward Behr (Food Writer, Vermont); John Besh (Chef and Restaurateur, New Orleans); David Chang (Momofuku Restaurant Group, NYC); Barry Estabrook (Writer, Vermont); Paul Kahan (Executive Chef and Partner, Chicago); Sherry Yard (Pastry Chef, Cookbook Author, Los Angeles)
  • America’s Classics: Hansen’s Sno Bliz (Owner: Ashley Hansen, New Orleans, LA) who opened up her remarks with an adorable smile and quip, “This is bananas” that had everyone smiling.
  • Nick’s Italian Café (Owners: Nick Peirano, Carmen Peirano, and Eric Ferguson, McMinnville, OR); Olneyville New York System (Owners: Stephanie Stevens Turini and Greg Stevens, Providence, RI);
  • Perini Ranch Steakhouse (Owners: Lisa and Tom Perini, Buffalo Gap, TX). There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience when the Cowboy Cook, Tom, finished his remarks, saying “Now I’m going to place this where it really belongs and put the ribbon on his wife, Lisa, who teared up.
  • Sokolowski’s University Inn (Owners: Bernard Sokolowski, Mary Balbier, and Michael Sokolowski, Cleveland, OH) With the family onstage to thank the Foundation and the city of Cleveland, a new food term “Food Coma,” was tossed out like a bon mot, to describe how their customer’s feel about the Sokolowski comfort food menu, filled with stuffed cabbage and the polka music playing!
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Sirio Maccioni (Restaurateur, NYC). To present the award, New York City’s former mayor, Michael Bloomberg strode confidently onstage to enthusiastic cheers and whoops, joking that he and Sirio were set to collaborate on a restaurant. Bloomberg has good writers that might be stars for Jimmy Fallon. “When I came to New York, people waited in line for movie tickets, not Cronuts. Or, Organic was something found in science class, not on your plate.”

Following a short bio video of Maccioni and his rise as a NYC restaurant legend, Sirio received a standing ovation and gave a heartfelt, short thank you to all.

  • Humanitarian of the Year: Matt Haley (Chef, Restaurateur and Philanthropist, Delaware) Haley brought the audience back to a grim reality, citing his work with the disenfranchised; “buying” back an Indian woman for $800 so she could feed her family and being told he “paid too much.” Or young children who are raped five times a week, and on the other hand, having the privilege of cleaning beaches and planting edible gardens with children and teaching them to cook. Haley said he moved his world from the “Center of the plate to the community” explaining how when he left prison, the only industry that gave him a job and hope for a better life was the restaurant business. He vowed to dedicate his life to doing good and leveraging what he has to make the world a better place. He dedicated his award to his mother. He received a standing ovation, also.

A complete list of award winners can be found at the end of this release, as well as at jamesbeard.org/awards.

Food & Drink Reception Highlights

· Beast restaurant’s lobster crepes from Best Chef: Northwest Naomi Pomeroy

· Sustainable chef- and according to his business card, One Mad Chef, Jimmy Schmidt’s morel mushrooms embraced by what grows with the spring sensations, including fiddlehead ferns, forest herbs, ramps, and topped with a red sauce infused with smoked paprika, garlic and mouvedre. Schmidt who hails from Morgan’s In the Desert restaurant, La Quinta, California, is also launching his Food Shed Exchange www.FoodShedExchange.com More to come on this enterprise.

· The Fat Ham, Philadelphia’s modern southern cooking and sister restaurant to SBRAGA served smokin’ braised lamb with pickled cucumbers, yogurt sauce and roasted tomatoes on pita bread.

· Harlem’s Minton’s restaurant offered up an exciting taste of charred octopus, poached in spices and dotted with crumbly yogurt

· Café Juanita from Kirkland, WA created a tasty sensation of Anderson Valley lamb tongue, walnuts, Mache, and pickled rhubarb.

· Memphis Italian Kitchen’s Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer made Halibut Crudo with asparagus, fava beans, morels, ham and salsa verde that could make you sing like Elvis.

· Houston Restaurant RDG, served a spectacular Texas Brisket, a signature dish, in smoked chile aspic with Sarsaparilla BBQ Sauce. A charming and delightful creation. Chef Robert Del Grande? Not so much. A tad too snarky even for crusty New Yorkers. When prompted about the restaurant’s famed bbq or the need to replace their fire cooker every five years and the huge inventory of mesquite they run through – he shrugged trying to be coy…

· Casa Dragones blanco tequila. The tequila was smoky and nuanced, for sipping or in a margarita – a singular ode to Cinco de Mayo. The tequila is made in small batches – less than 200 in a batch and only three thousand cases a year are produced.

· Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

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