The long list of contenders for this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards was whittled down today, when the actual nominees were announced.
Of the 91 names on the list for the chefs and restaurant awards — not counting those in the Best New Restaurant category — 53 were on the list last year, too, which is kind of par for the course.
It’s probably fewer returnees than last year, actually. Most categories usually have three or four of five nominees returning from the previous year — obviously not all five can return because someone has to win and then is ineligible for a number of years.
But this year there was a big shakeup that I don't understand in the Outstanding Wine Service category, in which only Blackberry Farm returned.
The Outstanding Service Award and the regional awards for the Mid-Atlantic, Southwest and Pacific have just two returning nominees.
For the Beard Awards, that’s almost revolutionary.
Still, I shall endeavor to predict the winners.
Mind you, these are not my choices for who I’d like to win. They are who I think will win based on how popular they seem to be with media.
Because although anyone can participate online in the process of picking semifinalists, the judges in the two rounds of voting required to pick the actual nominees and the winners are former winners and the food writers who made them popular in the first place. It’s kind of an insular world, and people tend to feed off of one-another’s opinions.
That being said, my predictions don’t have a great record. This will be my fourth year of Beard Handicapping. The first two years I guessed 7 out of 19. Last year I got 8 out of 19. So, that’s less than half, but quite a bit better than a monkey picking at random (and if you think about it like baseball, I batted .421 last year).
Now let’s get on with the predictions, shall we?
We have Andrés, Colicchio and Goin returning from last year. Both of the newcomers are from San Francisco and I think they’ll split that city's vote. The question is, are the judges tired of Tom Colicchio or worried that José Andrés is too creative for these serious times? If so, they’ll express love for the homey food of Sunday dinner at Lucques and vote for Suzanne Goin.
But I think star power will prevail and Tom Colicchio will win.
Babbo, Boulevard and Highlands Bar & Grill are back from last year, but the newcomers, Daniel and Spiaggia, are hardly new.
It’s never wise to predict against a victory for Mario Batali or Daniel Boulud. We’re in the mood for classics this year, which means Spiaggia has a good chance. But I think I’ll predict Daniel.
Highlands Bar & Grill
These are all the same guys as last year except for Pat Kuleto, who’s replacing last year’s winner, Drew Nieporent. Will judges feel bad about not picking Boulevard as outstanding restaurant and vote for its owner, Kuleto, for restaurateur? I’m thinking they won’t. Keith McNally is not particularly press-friendly, which could hurt him or help him depending on whether food writers like restaurateurs who play hard to get. I think mostly they don’t like that.
I’ll predict Richard Melman.
Oh who knows? La Grenouille and Vetri are back from last year. The rest are new. Robuchon’s Las Vegas restaurant is up for three awards this year (service, the regional award for the Southwest and pastry chef). But I think Grant Achatz’s star power will outshine it. I think Alinea will win.
Joël Robuchon at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino
Best New Restaurant:
This category actually kind of matters, because you only have one chance to win it. I suppose it’s possible that Marea and Locanda Verde will split the New York vote, except Flour + Water, Frances and RN74 are all in San Francisco. Does that mean Biboou in Philadelphia will slip through like a beta salmon while the big fish duke it out?
Maybe, but I think Marea will win.
Flour + Water
Outstanding Pastry Chef:
Kamel Guechida, Nicole Plue and Mindy Segal are all back. I predicted that Mindy Segal would win last year, and I’m going to predict it again.
This award, given to a chef aged 30 or younger, is important because it can really help launch a career. Johnny Monis, Gabriel Rucker and Sue Zemanick are all back from last year. Tim Hollingsworth doesn’t really need to have his career launched as he’s already chef de cuisine at The French Laundry, but we love the House of Keller (Hollingsworth's predecessor, Corey Lee, won this award), and I predict he will win.
Wine & Spirits Professional:
Paul Grieco of Hearth in New York is the only newcomer here. He could win, but I think we’re going to go with booze this year, so I predict Julian P. Van Winkle, III of Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery in Louisville, Ky., will win.
John and Doug Shafer
Julian P. Van Winkle, III
Outstanding Wine Service
Blackberry Farm’s the only returning nominee, and maybe it’s back for a reason, but I don’t think the media love affair with Frasca is over yet. I predict that restaurant will win.
Frasca Food and Wine
Restaurant Gary Danko
Michael Carlson of Schwa is the only newcomer, replacing Michael Symon who won last year. People like Schwa’s homey style, but I hear so much buzz about Paul Kahan’s restaurants that I think Koren Grieveson, his chef at Avec, will win.
Lenny Russo of Heartland in St. Paul is the only newcomer in this group, replacing Tim McKee who won last year. I have to say I have no idea about this one, but a prediction must be made, and so I shall make it for Colby Garrelts.
Peter Kelly’s the only newcomer on this list. I know the Frasier-Gaier team at Arrows has to win one of these years, but this year I’m guessing, once again, that it will be Marc Orfaly.
Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier
Peter X. Kelly
New York City:
Daniel Humm and Michael White are both new in this category, and they’re both super-white hot. Michael White gets to win best new restaurant for Marea, and Daniel Humm was anointed by Frank Bruni as the city's newest New York Times four-star chef. Woe unto he (or she) who dares to tilt at that mighty windmill.
Cathal Armstrong of Eve in Alexandria, Va., and Peter Pastan of Obelisk in DC are the returning contenders. I’m going to bet on the power of Top Chef
Interestingly, two of the nominees here, newcomer (to this list) Andrea Reusing of Lantern, and Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner, are from Chapel Hill, N.C. Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene is the sole representative from Atlanta. Hugh Acheson is from Five and Ten in Athens, Ga., and Sean Brock, the other newcomer, is from McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C.
Sean actually isn’t a newcomer as he was nominated to be rising star last year, but you can only be on that list for so long. I think he’ll win the regional award this year.
Scott Boswell of Stella! in New Orleans and Christopher Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Ala., are new to the list, although really it’s more that Chris Hastings was just given the year off in 2009. He was nominated in 2007 and 2008.
Is the third time a charm? Mmm, I think it’s a toss-up between him and Zach Bell, who’s Daniel Boulud’s chef in Palm Beach.
As I said, it’s always dangerous to bet against mighty Daniel, but one must occasionally live dangerously.
Ryan Hardy of Montagna at The Little Nell in Aspen and Claude Le Tohic from Robuchon’s restaurant in Vegas are back from last year. You’d think Robuchon would win something, but I’ve been hearing a lot from Rick Moonen’s people lately, and not just because he’s on top Chef Masters, after years of relative quiet. I think it’s his year.
Claude Le Tohic
I would love for Jeremy Fox to win since he’s since left his job at Ubuntu, for which he was nominated last year as well as this year. It would be a tad awkward. David Kinch of Manresa is also back. Quince, Michael Tusk’s restaurant, I think has the admiration of the Bay Area crowd, but Matt Molina of Mozza has celebrity chefs at his back.
Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland and Andy Ricker of Pok Pok, also in Portland, are the newcomers in this category. Together with Cathy Whims of Nostrana in Portland, that means they have three nominees, and Seattle has just two. How embarrassing.
One of them might win, but I think the award will go to Jason Wilson of Crush in Seattle.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, these are not necessarily who I’d like to win, they’re who I think will win. All of the nominees whose restaurants I’ve visited or whose food I have eaten are absolutely deserving of this award yada yada yada.
Congratulations to all the nominees.