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Scenes From New York’s James Beard Gala

Monday night, the country’s most celebrated chefs traded their whites for black-tie (though Mario Batali still wore his trademark orange clogs) for the Oscars of the food world, the James Beard Foundation Awards.

Renowned chefs and big-name cookbook authors walked the red carpet leading up to Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. As the lights dimmed, a bevy of the country’s most talented women chefs took their bows in a salute to this year’s theme, “Women in Food.”  As they retreated back to the lobby to finish prepping the show-stopping food they would be serving after the ceremony, co-hosts, actor Stanley Tucci, restaurateur Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, and a very pregnant Cat Cora  of “Iron Chef America” took the stage. Cora, who is expecting a baby boy any day now, joked she had been craving chocolate big-time lately.

As a judge for the cookbook awards this year, I was invited to be a guest at this year’s festivities.

The Bay Area contingent applauded ecstatically when the first big award of the evening was announced: “Rising Star Chef Award” for the most promising chef of the year under age 30. It went to Nate Appleman of A16 in San Francisco.

Chef Douglas Keane of Cyrus in Healdsburg took home the “Best Chef Pacific” award.

San Francisco’s Yank Sing restaurant was honored with “An American Classic” award. Dan Barber of Blue Hill in New York pocketed the “Outstanding Chef” award. Jean Georges won the “Oustanding Restaurant” honors.”

Best New Restaurant” went to the impossible-to-get-into, 12-seat Momofuku Ko in New York.

Daniel Boulud’s chic Daniel restaurant won for “Outstanding Service.”

Gina DePalma, pastry chef of Babbo in New York, had been nominated six times before and come away empty-handed.

Not Monday night. She finally captured the bronze medallion for “Best Pastry Chef.” Read more about DePalma in my post next Monday.

Drew Nieporent of the Myriad Restaurant Group had been jokingly referred to as the Susan Lucci of the Beard awards by his staff because year after year, he’d be nominated, only to be denied in the end. Monday night, a jubilant Nieporent finally won the “Outstanding Restaurateur” Award. As he took to the stage, he pretended to Twitter at the podium. Then, he turned mockingly to the audience and yelled, “Don’t you hate that sh-t!!” as gales of laughter erupted.

Afterwards, crowds wound their way through the lobby to enjoy tasty morsels prepared by the celeb women chefs. People then fanned out into the night, searching out the infamous after-parties.

Chang reportedly had his own “party bus” that ferried his crew to the various hot spots. Meat Boy and I were invited to attend the one at Otto, where Batali celebrated DePalma’s victorious win with a feast of pizzas, cured meats, bruschetta, and champagne.

 Here’s a toast to all the nominees and winners. Cheers!


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