Monday, March 21, 2011

Beard Handicapping 2011

March 21

The nominations for the James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Awards were announced today.

So were nominations for cookbooks, journalism and broadcast media, but I don’t cover those and so I don’t care much.

Even the chef and restaurant awards are kind of, well, I mean it’s great for all the chefs and restaurateurs to come to New York and celebrate, and it’s even better that they get to publicize their nomination and maybe drum up more business, but so many nominees return each year that there are never any great surprises. These will be the 13th Beard Awards that I cover, and they have all started to blur together. 

Then again, why would there be surprises? The nominees tend to be talented chefs and restaurants that many people in their communities love, which is why they get nominated.

So I’m not saying that the awards necessarily need to be done differently. They are what they are; winners should use them for whatever they’re worth and those who don’t win shouldn’t take them too seriously.

This will be my fifth year predicting the winners, and I must say that I’m getting better at it. I guessed seven out 19 winners my first two years, then I bumped it up to eight, and last year I guessed nine winners. That’s practically half, almost.

My approach to these predictions is based on the idea that these awards don’t go to the best chef — I mean, “best chef”? What does that even mean?

They tend to go to those whose names are most easily recognized by the judges, who are food writers and past winners.

My predictions do not in anyway indicate who I would like to win. For the sake of propriety, I will keep that to myself.

And now onto my predictions.

Rising Star Chef of the Year:
I think Christina Tosi will benefit from the name of Momofuku, which introduced Asian food to many New Yorkers who had, it seemed, not bothered to walk a mile south of the East Village to Chinatown or two miles northwest to Koreatown.

Aaron London, Ubuntu, Napa, Calif.
Thomas McNaughton, flour + water, San Francisco
Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.
Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar, NYC
Sue Zemanick, Gautreau’s, New Orleans

Best New Restaurant:
Torrisi’s the darling of New York gastroscenti at the moment, and although it’s possible that it and ABC Kitchen will split the New York vote and the award will go to Benu, whose chef Corey Lee won the Rising Star award a few years ago and who still shines in the glory of the Thomas Keller empire as The French Laundry’s former chef, I don’t think it will.

ABC Kitchen, New York City
Benu, San Francisco
Girl & the Goat, Chicago
Menton, Boston
Torrisi Italian Specialties, New York City

Outstanding Restaurateur:
The judges, feeling bad that they dissed Jean-Georges Vongerichten by not voting for his ABC Kitchen as best new restaurant, will give this award to his business partner, Phil Suarez.

Bruce Bromberg and Eric Bromberg, Blue Ribbon Restaurants, New York City
Tom Douglas, Tom Douglas Restaurants, Seattle
Pat Kuleto, Pat Kuleto Restaurant Development & Management Company, San Francisco
Richard Melman, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Chicago
Phil Suarez, Suarez Restaurant Grou, New York City

Outstanding Restaurant:
This one’s always a crap shoot, but if in doubt, pick the restaurant with the most famous owner. That would be Danny Meyer of Eleven Madison Park.

Blue Hill, New York City
Boulevard, San Francisco
Eleven Madison Park, New York City
Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham, Ala.
Vetri, Philadelphia

Outstanding Chef:
Paul Kahan is new to this category, and it usually takes a few years for a chef to win. Everyone loves José Andrés, but we’re in kind of a post-molecular gastronomy mood at the moment. I think this one’s a toss-up between Gary Danko and Suzanne Goin. I think I’ll pick the one with the homier reputation.

José Andrés, mini bar by José Andrés, Washington, D.C.
Gary Danko, Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco
Suzanne Goin, Lucques, Los Angeles
Paul Kahan, Blackbird, Chicago
Charles Phan, The Slanted Door, San Francisco 

Outstanding Pastry Chef:
Can Eleven Madison Park possibly win two awards? Well, yes, it can, but Mindy Segal’s the only chef in this category who also was nominated last year. I think that’s a sign

Joanne Chang, Flour Bakery + Café, Boston
Patrick Fahy, Blackbird, Chicago
Dahlia Narvaez, Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles
Angela Pinkerton, Eleven Madison Park, New York City
Mindy Segal, Mindy’s HotChocolate Restaurant and Dessert Bar, Chicago

Outstanding Service:
Emeril’s famous, but in my world I think Thomas Keller’s even more so.

Canlis, Seattle
Emeril’s, New Orleans
La Grenouille, New York City
Per Se,  New York City
Topolobampo, Chicago

Outstanding Wine Service:
San Francisco’s got to win something big, and Bay Area judges are used to voting for A16, whose Nate Appleman was named Rising Star Chef a couple of years ago. Appleman’s consulting for Chipotle now, but that’s his journey, not A16’s.

A16, San Francisco, Shelley Lindgren
Blackberry Farm Walland, Tenn., Andy Chabot
Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, Colo. Bobby Stuckey
Picasso at Bellagio, Las Vegas Robert Smith
The Modern, New York City, Belinda Chang

Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional:
So many ways to go with this one. The Beard Foundation is trying to shake its New York-centric reputation. In fact, it announced the list of nominees at a press conference in Portland, Ore., this year. It was a classy move, but still, if you wonder which city is going to take an award, it’s probably going to be New York.

Sam Calagione, Dogfish head Craft Brewery, Milton, Del.
Merry Edwards, Merry Edwards Winery, Sebastopol, Calif.
Paul Grieco, Hearth and Terroir, New York City
Rajat Parr, Mina Group, San Francisco
Julian P. Van Winkle III, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, Louisville, Ky.

Best Chef: Great Lakes:
Perennial favorites like Zingerman’s tend to linger as nominees, but they don’t win very often. I’m going to guess that Chicago will follow the lead of their new Michelin guide, which gave two stars to Avenues.

Michael Carlson, Schwa, Chicago
Curtis Duffy, Avenues, at the Peninsula, chicago
Bruce Sherman, North Pond, Chicago
Paul Virant, Vie, Western Springs, Ill.
Alex Young, Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic:
You know what? Philadelphia’s a really great food city.

Cathal Armstrong, Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Va.
Johnny Monis, Komi, Washington, D.C.
Peter Pastan, Obellisk, Washington, D.C.
Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama, Hoboken, N.J.
Michael Solomonov, Zahav, Philadelphia

Best Chef: Midwest:
I think the Midwesterners are going to vote classically this year, and that means a vote for L’Etoile.

Justin Aprahamian, Sanford, Milwaukee
Isaac Becker, 112 Eatery, Minneapolis
Colby Garrelts, Bluestem, Kansas City, Mo.
Tory Miller, L’Etoile, Madison, Wis.
Lenny Russo, Heartland, St. Paul, Minn

Best Chef: New York City
New York has an incredibly dynamic restaurant scene, and yet April Bloomfield’s the only newcomer on this list. With all due respect to the very deserving nominees here, that says something bad about something, but I’m not sure what.
That said, as much as food writers love April Bloomfield, I think they like Michael White even more.

Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern
April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig
Wylie Dufresne, WD-50
Gabrielle Hamilton, Prune
Michael White, Marea

Best Chef: Northeast:
Tony Maws is the only returning nominee on this list and so I’ll follow the same logic I did picking outstanding pastry chef.

Tim Cushman, o ya, Boston
Krista Kern Desjarlais, Bresca, Portland, Maine.
Gerry Hayden, The North Fork Table & Inn, Southold, N.Y.
Matt Jennings, La Laiterie, Providence, R.I.
Tony Maws, Craigie on Main, Cambridge, Mass.
Eric Warnstedt, Hen of the Wood, Waterbury, Vt.

Best Chef: Northwest:
This list shows me that I need to get to the Pacific Northwest more often, because I am, quite frankly, at a loss as to who to predict. But I have to pick someone, so, congratulations in advance to Cathy Whims.

Matt Dillon, Sitka & Spruce, Seattle
Christopher Israel, Grüner, Portland, Ore.
Andy Ricker, Pok Pok, Portland, Ore.
Ethan Stowell, Staple & Fancy Mercantile, Seattle
Cathy Whims, Nostrana, Portland, Ore.

Best Chef: Pacific:
I’ve heard many good things about Daniel Patterson, and that means that judges in the Bay Area have, too.

Michael Cimarusti, Providence, Los Angeles
Christopher Kostow, The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.
Daniel Patterson, Coi, San Francico
Richard Reddington, Redd, Yountville, Calif.
Michael Tusk, Quince, San Francisco

Best Chef: South:
The Brennans are possibly the most respected restaurant family in the entire country, and this list indicates that New Orleans still is enjoying a post-Katrina bump. 

Zach Bell, Café Boulud, Palm Beach, Fla.
John Harris, Lilette, New Orleans
Christopher Hastings, Hot and Hot Fish Club, Birmingham, Ala.
Tory McPhail, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
Stephen Stryjewski, Cochon, New Orleans

Best Chef: Southeast:
Bigger cities have more judges.

Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten, Athens, Ga.
Craig Deihl, Cypress, Charleston, S.C.
John Fleer, Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley, Cashiers, N.C.
Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta
Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville, Ky.
Andrea Reusing, Lantern, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Best Chef: Southwest:
Remember what I said about the Southeast? It’s true of the Southwest, too.

Bruce Auden, Biga on the Banks, San Antonio, Texas
Bryan Caswell, Reef, Houston
Saipin Chutima, Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas
Tyson Cole, Uchi, Austin, Texas
Ryan Hardy, Montagne at the Little Nell, Aspen, Colo.

And that concludes my predictions. 

Please feel free to share your own observations in the comment section below.

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