Dear blog reader, sorry I've been out of touch. I've been doing a lot of reporting on Nation's Restaurant News' web site, which is my main job. In fact, this blog is hosted there, too, as part of our Food & Beverage page. Check it out there, or here; whichever you prefer.
When it comes to eating, it’s a well-established rule that good taste
trumps good nutrition, almost all the time. It’s true that a growing number of
Americans will lean toward eating something that seems to be better for them as
long as it’s delicious, but it has to be delicious first.
That’s not necessarily true with drinks. We Americans might be loath to
eat our medicine, but we seem O.K. about drinking it, whether it’s vaguely
life-sustaining antioxidants, restorative electrolytes, oddly named probiotics,
or fast-acting energy boosters. I think that’s why salty, weird-tasting sports
drinks remain popular even as carbonated beverage sales continue to decline,
and why sales of energy drinks are booming despite the fact that many of them
taste like sweetened battery acid.
The last time I checked statistics for sales of ready-to-drink tea in
the United States, 40 percent of it was green tea.
You can’t tell me that most Americans actually like the subtly bitter,
grassy taste of green tea. Besides, most bottled green tea is sweetened (these
days often with cane sugar or agave nectar) and mixed with enough fruit
flavoring that you’d have no way of knowing there might also be some tea in
But if we don’t necessarily embrace the flavor of green tea, we
certainly seem to like the idea of it and all its antioxidants — and, I
suspect, the fact that it comes from the exotic Far East, where, for some
reason, we think everything they eat is good for you.
With the exception of the explosion of smoothies everywhere, from hotel
brunch menus to McDonald’s, restaurants are really just in the early stages of
capitalizing on the drink-as-health-tonic trend.
Some furtive experiments have been made to sell branded energy drinks,
but from what I’ve heard they’ve generally been drunk more by staff than
Starbucks has finally introduced its own line of energy drinks called Refreshers. They’re sparkling beverages boosted with
caffeine-charged green coffee extract that the chain’s web site promises “looks
and tastes nothing like coffee,” as well as ginseng and B and C vitamins.
Aaron Jourden, an editor with foodservice research firm Technomic’s
information services, whom I interviewed for a story I wrote earlier this month
on cold drinks, pointed out that both Honey Dew Donuts and Sheetz were spiking
some of their beverages with branded energy drinks, and that 7-Eleven now has
Big Energy Coffee, which has no sugar, but does have ginseng, gingko and
I also interviewed Regan Jasper, the director of hospitality and
beverage for Fox Restaurant Group in Scottsdale, Ariz. For Fox’s True Food
Kitchen, a four-unit concept with food based on the anti-inflammatory diet of
Andrew Weil, he developed an energy drink called the Medicine Man.
To make the drink he steeps 10 black teabags in a teapot for about an
hour to make a dark, bitter caffeine extract.
He mixes two ounces of that with pomegranate juice and cranberry juice,
both of which are supposed to be anti-inflammatory; muddled blueberries that
are reported to have anti-aging qualities as well as being awesome for your
prostate; and extract of sea buckthorn, a favorite ingredient of Dr. Weill’s
despite its medicinal taste and extreme sourness. Jasper tells me that if you
sweeten sea buckthorn extract with agave nectar, it takes on a flavor
reminiscent of peach or apricot.
That concoction is topped with soda water and sold for $6 for a 16-ounce
glass. It’s the restaurant’s most popular beverage, a clear indication that
drinks-as-medicine is a trend with legs.
I correctly guessed that Next would win for best new restaurant, PDT for outstanding bar program, Boulevard for outstanding restaurant, Michael Anthony for best chef in New York City and Chris Hastings for best chef in the South.
I got everything else wrong.
But no matter. It’s not whether you win or lose a Beard Award, it’s how you work it. Getting nominated year after year means you get free press year after year. Once you win, you get a medal and a burst of free press, but then you have to find new ways to draw attention to yourself.
I chose a different strategy in covering the awards this year. Rather than spend the night in the press room, which is always a fun party, but completely unrelated to the actual awards, I decided to go ahead and sit in Avery Fisher Hall and take notes.
I was worried that I’d fall asleep. I'd awakened in Chicago at 6 a.m. to write this trend piece on what was on display at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, then I took a 15-minute nap, packed, headed to the airport, landed in New York, took a taxi to NRN's office, changed into my tuxedo and took the 1 train to Avery Fisher Hall for the Beard Awards.
But I guess the double-espresso I had before the awards started did the trick, and I sat through the three-and-a-half-hour ceremony wide awake, only getting antsy after two hours because I'd been sitting for two hours.
It had been years since I'd sat in that hall, and I realized that the best part of the awards was missed in the press room. It was the stuff that seemed like filler — the America's Classics awards given to old-time diners and similar places, the humanitarian and lifetime achievement awards, given to Charlie Trotter and Wolfgang Puck, respectively, this year — that was really entertaining.
Even the odd and maybe kind of out-of-place 20-minute performance by actor Robert Neal of part of the play “I Love to Eat,” was entertaining.
The play by James Still is being performed in Indianapolis and seemed to be added to the beginning of the award ceremonies expressly to make people sit longer. It was as if the James Beard Foundation had rented out Avery Fisher Hall and was determined to get its money’s worth.
But it was good.
The awards themselves, well, the winners' names are read, they come on stage, thank their spouses, staff and business partners, occasionally make an amusing quip — Tory Miller, chef of l'Etoile in Madison, Wis., and winner of the award for best chef in the Midwest, thanked James Beard for being “such a crazy old weird dude” — and sit down.
There are 22 of them, including the graphics and design awards, so it takes awhile, but the Beard Foundation seems to be working on streamlining them even further. They don't let the announcers — usually past winners and a representative from that particular award's sponsor — read the nominees' names anymore (except, for some reason, B. Smith, who gave out the graphics and design awards). Instead, a recorded voice reads them, keeping the presenters from butchering the names, which had been a constant problem in past years. And master of ceremonies Alton Brown seemed intent on moving things along.
Even Wolfgang Puck told the audience, who were giving him a standing ovation: “Sit down. you'll get a drink sooner.”
The awards are followed by a reception that seems to become more of a zoo each year as throngs of foodies in formalwear crowd each other out to try to get something to eat.
I'd had a big lunch — a torta from the Frontera Grill at O'Hare — because I don't like to stand in line for food, so I mostly sipped wine and chatted with people. I caught up with inimitable chef-restaurateur Michael McCarty, who was visiting with Ruth Reichl, and with Nic Jammet, partner in the SweetGreen fast-casual salad and frozen yogurt chain based in DC.
Food writer and drink maven Francine Cohen chastised me for not being in the press room but was good enough to bring me a delicious little white wine, made mostly of Colombard, of all grapes, from Southwestern France.
After snacking on Paul Kahan’s blood sausage, I realized the party was over for me and headed for the logical first after-party, at Boulud-Sud, across the street from Lincoln Center. But before I went in I ran into Chris Cosentino, of Incanto in San Francisco, and Ken Oringer, of many cool places in Boston, who were intent on going to Otto.
You see Matt Molina, the chef of Mozza in Los Angeles, had been named best chef in the Pacific, so Mario Batali, one of Mozza’s co-owners, was fêting him downtown, as is the custom when you win a Beard Award.
My philosophy when it comes to after-parties is not to go where everyone’s going, but where the people I like are going.
So to Otto we went, where I commiserated with Chris Cosentino about the coming end to foie gras in California. It becomes illegal in that state as of July 1, a fact many people at the awards were protesting against by wearing "Save the Foie” pins — too little, too late, I'm afraid. The law was passed in 2004, after all, to give foie gras producers time to find a way to make the fattened duck liver in a way animal welfare activists deemed acceptable.
The pro-foie crowd might have considered organizing back then.
I also met Mario Batali, perhaps for the first time, I'm not sure. I talked to him about figuring out how to report on the Beard Awards. Reporting on who won is silly, since the Beard Foundation live-tweets the event and a list of the winners is readily available online.
He agreed that the rapportage of the awards was meaningless, but that there were plenty of interesting back stories, such as Michael Anthony’s recovery from heart surgery this year — something Anthony mentioned when accepting the award for best chef in New York City.
Seattle-based chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas was there, too. I thought he was out of town, because his business partner, Eric Tanaka, accepted the award for outstanding restaurateur on his behalf. But Tom said he just didn’t like public speaking, and that Eric was a genius and should have been the one to accept the award anyway.
I got kind of philosophical with Daniel Holzman of The Meatball Shop, and learned something of the life story of his business partner Michael Chernow.
Chernow told me he had a bit of an acting and modeling career, which was how he ended up modeling for a recent J. Crew catalog. The fact that J. Crew also mentioned that he owned The Meatball Shop was a nice added piece of free press.
The party started winding down around 2 a.m., and I quickly swung up to the annual keg party at Eleven Madison Park to congratulate my friend Will Guidara, the place’s co-owner, for Daniel Humm’s victory as the country’s Outstanding Chef.
I stepped over the broken beer bottles, gave him a hug and called it a night.
again a coterie of food writers, chefs and restaurateurs have nominated a
talented array of professionals to win the James Beard Foundation Chef and
Restaurant Awards, and once again I shall endeavor to guess who they will
ultimately pick as the winners.
predictions are based, as they are every year, on the notion that the best
nominees are not necessarily selected; the most popular ones are.
course, all the nominees are deserving and I hope they all leverage their
nominations to promote their services and improve their business. But the
winners will be the ones about whom there is the most buzz, about whom the
media, nationally and, more importantly, in their own regions, feel good about.
think local and regional media are most important because judges are instructed
to vote only in categories in which they feel qualified to vote, and to promise
not to vote for restaurants where they haven’t eaten.
although I cover the whole country, being based in New York I would not vote
for best chef in the Southwest.
that’s how the voting works, and below are my predictions of who I think will
win in categories that I care about. These predictions should in no way be seen
as my votes for the awards. They are who I think will win, not necessarily who I’d
like to win.
you’d like to know who’s nominated in other categories, you can look at them
McNaughton, Christina Tosi and Sue Zemanick all were nominated last year, but I
think they’re going to be disappointed by the power that is Grant Achatz and
his restaurant Next. I think Dave Beran will win.
Dave Beran of Next in
Bowien of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco
McNaughton of Flour + Water in San Francisco
Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City
Zemanick of Gautreau’s in New Orleans
suppose there is a danger that since Next is so hard to get into a lot of
judges won’t ethically be able to vote for it, but I think that obstacle will
be overcome and Next will win:
in San Francisco
in Washington, D.C.
Next in Chicago
is tricky. Not only is it a brand new category, meaning I don’t know how people
traditionally vote, but also because, although people do go goo-goo
ga-ga over Grant Achatz and will feel compelled to vote for his Aviary, I’ve
never met anyone whose eyes don’t moisten a little bit in admiration of James
Meehan, the owner of PDT.
going to guess PDT.
Violet Hour Chicago,
Agricole in San Francisco,
Club in New York City
PDT in New York City
love the Blue Ribbon restaurants. They love them! But they also admire
Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants, whose financier is Phil Suarez. And so
do food writers. Both of those restaurateurs, and Tom Douglas, were nominated
last year. This year I think Phil Suarez is going to get it.
Bromberg and Eric Bromberg of Blue Ribbon Restaurants in New York City,
Douglas of Tom Douglas Restaurants in Seattle,
Selvaggio of the Valentino Restaurant Group in Santa Monica, Calif.,
Styne of Lucques, A.O.C. and Tavern in Los Angeles,
Phil Suarez of the Suarez
Restaurant Group in New York City
is sort of a lifetime achievement award and goes to a restaurant that has paid
its dues. All of these restaurants except Balthazar also were nominated this
award could easily go to Blue Hill, whose executive chef Dan Barber is a media
darling, but there’s something about the gravitas of Boulevard that I think
will result in it getting the medallion.
in New York City
Hill in New York City
Boulevard in San Francisco
Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Ala.
is also a sort of lifetime achievement award (José Andrés got it last year). As
such, it’s kind of surprising that only Paul Kahan and Gary Danko were
nominated last year. I think it will go to one of them, and I think there has
been more buzz lately about Paul Kahan. So I think it will go to him.
Chang of the Momofuku restaurants
Humm of Eleven Madison Park
Danko of Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco,
Paul Kahan of Blackbird in
Link of Herbsaint in New Orleans
Silverton of Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles.
Chang, Dahlia Narvaez and Mindy Segal all were nominated last year, which
improves their chances, but I think Daniel Boulud’s star power will shine
through and Ghaya Oliveira will win.
Chang of Flour Bakery + Café in Cambridge, Mass.
Chou of Aziza in San Francisco
Goldsmith of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami
Narvaez of Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles
Ghaya Oliveira of Boulud
Sud in New York City
Segal of Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in Chicago.
Grenouille and Topolobampo are back from last year. The judges like giving
awards to both Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia and Rick Bayless of Topolobampo,
but I’ve been hearing Michael Mina’s name in the ether a lot lately. I think
his restaurant will get it.
in Healdsberg, Calif.
Michael Mina in San
Grenouille in New York City.
Blackberry Farm and Frasca were nominated last year. Blackberry Farm always
gets nominated for something, and they don’t win much. But their PR team has
been promoting them pretty well of late, and I think it will be enough to push
them over the top.
in San Francisco
The Barn at Blackberry
Farm in Walland, Tenn.
Food & Wine in Boulder, Colo.
in New Orleans
9 Park in Boston
Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional
Calagione, Merry Edwards and Paul Grieco are all back for another year. I
predicted that Grieco would win last year and I totally blew that one. Although
New Yorkers tend to have an advantage in the James Beard Awards, I’m still
betting that Sam Calagione’s going to win this year.
Sam Calagione of Dogfish
Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del.;
Edwards of Merry Edwards Winery in Sebastopol, Calif.;
Grieco of Terroir in New York City,
Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery in New York City,
Rosenthal of Mad Rose Group in Pine Plains, N.Y.
now the regional awards:
Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio):
year, on a roster as dominated by Chicago as this one is, Alex Young of
Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Mich., walked away with a win. Could Anne Kearney do
the same? Yes she could. But maybe Stephanie Izard’s star power as a former Top
Chef contestant could giver her the edge. Then Again, Sepia was in a Hollywood
film, The Dilemma.
betting on the TV chef.
Carlson of Schwa in Chicago
Stephanie Izard of Girl
& the Goat in Chicago
Kearney of Rue Dumaine in Dayton, Ohio
Sherman of North Pond in Chicago
Zimmerman of Sepia in Chicago
(D.C., Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia):
Vikram Sunderam is new to this list, so it could go any way. But I’ve heard
Cathal Armstrong’s name on a number of occasions recently. There’s buzz about
him, so he’ll probably win.
Cathal Armstrong of
Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va.
Monis of Komi in Washington, D.C.
Pastan of Obelisk in Washington, D.C.
Presilla of Cucharamama in Hoboken, N.J.
Sunderam of Rasika in Washington, D.C.
(Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and
too, there’s only one newcomer, Gerard Craft. I’m kind of at a loss for this
one, but the name Colby Garrelts is jumping out at me. If it jumps out at me,
it could well jump out at a Midwestern judge.
Aprahamian of Sanford in Milwaukee
Craft of Niche in St. Louis
Colby Garrelts of Bluestem
in Kansas City, Mo.
Miller of L’Etoile in Madison, Wis.,
Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul, Minn.
to Mark Ladner, who joins four nominees from last year. Ladner is the chef of
Mario Batali’s only four-star restaurant, which is a big deal. On the other
hand, everybody loves Danny Meyer and his restaurants, giving Michael Anthony a
good shot. But they admire Michael White.
admiration trump love? No, it does not. They’ll vote for Michael Anthony.
Michael Anthony of
Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig
Dufresne of WD~50
Ladner of Del Posto
White of Marea
(Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York State, Rhode Island
Bissonnette’s the only newcomer to this list. He was named the People’s Best
New Chef by Food & Wine magazine’s readers last year. It’s possible that
the Beard Foundation voters will instead vote for Gerry Hayden, showing their
erudition by selecting the former chef of Aureole. But often when a chef wins one
award he or she wins many of them. I think Jamie Bissonnette will take this
Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa
Cushman of O Ya in Boston
Hayden of The North Fork Table & Inn in Southold, N.Y.
and Kate Jennings of La Laiterie in Providence, R.I.
Warnstedt of Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, Conn.
(Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming)
it possible that Food & Wine Best New Chefs is becoming the Golden Globes
to the Beard Awards, which are often called the Oscars of the fine dining
was a Best New Chef last year, and so was Jason Franey.
is a very old and very much respected restaurant that has been given a facelift
by brothers Mark and Brian Canlis — the third generation in the family to run
the place. It’s a sentimental favorite, and we love sentiment. Congratulations
in advance to Jason Franey.
Dillon of Sitka & Spruce in Seattle
Jason Franey of Canlis in
Israel of Gruner in Portland
Pomeroy of Beast in Portland
Whims of Nostrana in Portland
(California and Hawaii)
wish I knew how old the average California judge was. Those who
remember Michael Chiarello from his Tra Vigne days will feel inclined to vote
for him again. Then again, this is California, where young, hip and cool people
like Chris Cosentino are admired. But I think Daniel Patterson is
emitting an aura of gravitas that I’m not getting from the other chefs.
gravitas translate into votes? Maybe not, but I’m betting that it will.
Chiarello of Bottega in Yountville, Calif.
Cosentino of Incanto in San Francisco
Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowlands in St. Helena, Calif.
Molina of Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles
Daniel Patterson of Coi in
(Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi):
Harris, Chris Hastings and Tory McPhail are all back from last year. Based on
nothing but my gut, I think Chris Hastings is going to win this year.
Devillier of La Petite Grocery in New Orleans
Harris of Lilette in New Orleans
Chris Hastings of Hot and
Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Ala.
McPhail of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans
Shaya of Domenica in New Orleans
(Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West
Lenn is the only newcomer to this list, which comes from a part of the country
that admires culinary tradition and enjoys voting for Charleston chefs. I think
they’re going to vote for Craig Deihl
Acheson of Five and Ten in Athens, Ga.
Craig Deihl of Cypress in
Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta
Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Ky.
Lenn of The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.
(Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah):
been a huge turnover of nominees in the Southwest. Bruce Auden is the only
returning nominee. What does that mean?
could mean anything, but in my experience bigger cities have more judges, and
Houston is now the third biggest city in the country. That gives a Hugo Ortega
an advantage that I think will result in his victory.
Auden of Biga on the Banks in San Antonio, Texas
Binkley of Binkley’s Restaurant in Cave Creek, Ariz.
Davaillon of Mansion Restaurant at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in
Jasinski of Rioja in Denver
Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s in
Qui of Uchiko in Austin, Texas.
those are my predictions. If you have some of your own, why, go ahead and share
them in the comments section.
The New York Times’ new restaurant critic, Pete Wells, tears Romera New York a new one in his review of the restaurant that, by most accounts that I’ve read, is way too pretentious and self-important for its own good
I don’t usually like to read the take-down of a restaurant, because restaurateurs really put their hearts into them. But Wells did have some great lines. I wanted to tweet them, but they were more than 140 characters.
Then I remembered that I have a blog.
And so, please let me share two sentences that I really enjoyed:
“Yet as much as you might admire Dr. Romera, you can’t help feeling that you will never be able to admire him quite as much as you’re supposed to.” And: “But to eat at Romera New York is to be told repeatedly that you are in the presence of greatness, while the evidence of your senses tells you that you are in the presence of, at best, okayness.” Wells also did me the service of reminding me that I had met the chef, Dr. Miguel Sanchez Romera, before, in a surreal experience that itself reminded me that, when it comes to self-importance, Americans, even American artists, are wannabes compared to Europeans. The Times critic mentioned that Romera eschewed “chemicals” used by such culinary artists as Ferran Adrià (and by now many fine dining chefs in the United States) and instead used a cassava derivative called Micri. Micri! I remembered Micri. I was introduced to it years ago, near the turn of the century, at an event in New York hosted by the French Culinary Institute. It was very well attended by many of New York City's coolest chefs. I'm pretty sure Wylie Dufresne was there. I know David Burke was there because he sat next to me and began thinking about what to do with Micri — instant shake-it-up-yourself milkshakes was one idea, but I'm pretty sure nothing came of it. On stage, David Bouley made fascinating dishes displaying Micri's seemingly endless capacity for soaking up liquids, and Dr. Romera gave a lecture that seemed to last for at least three hours, but that was probably about 35 mintues, about his gastronomical philosophy, his own epistemological notions of how we perceive taste, I think from some sort of gastro-historical perspective, but I don’t really remember and couldn't possibly find my notes on the subject. It was all in Spanish and I don’t know whether it was translated badly or if it simply didn’t make sense, but the charts describing Dr. Romera’s thought process were equally obtuse and absurd. And it was without a doubt a display of the sort of colossal self-importance that Wells indicated was on display at Romera, and I don't doubt it. At the time of the demonstration, I was not only awestruck by the ridiculous way that Micri was presented, but also by its seemingly magical properties. But I was young. Since then I've seen lots of those ingredients and was more intrigued by the scallop quenelles Josh DeChellis made with a slimy Japanese tuber called nagaimo than anything I saw the Micri do, and I didn't have to endure a lecture.
Bret Thorn is senior food editor of Nation’s Restaurant News with responsibility for spotting and reporting on culinary trends. He joined the magazine in 1999 after spending about five years as a journalist in Thailand.
A graduate of Tufts University in Medford, Mass., Thorn also studied French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu Ecole de Cuisine in Paris. He studied in China for a year, too, and now lives in Brooklyn.