The James Beard Awards are the Academy Awards of the culinary field. It’s one night where you can see the likes of Mario Batali rubbing shoulders with Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert, all dressed in black tie. Sadly, I didn’t see any of them as I spent most of the awards tying pickled ramps in knots and resting them atop pieces of bone marrow. Mmmmm.
Kyle and I arrived at Lincoln Center, as directed, at 2:30 pm and were given our credentials.
This year, the awards celebrated women in food, and all of the chefs who were invited to cook were female. And, everything was pink. Don’t get me wrong, I love the color pink. But, I do think that women in the culinary field often struggle to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts, and that turning Avery Fisher Hall into something reminiscent of a middle school girl’s bedroom was maybe not the wisest decorative choice.
I was assigned to Chef Debbie Gold, and spent the better part of my first few hours at the awards awaiting her arrival. It turned out that she had been using a kitchen offsite to toast the croutons for her dish (there is no kitchen at Avery Fisher) and so she didn’t wind up arriving until 4:30. While I was waiting, Kyle and I snuck a peek into the theater, which was a good thing as it was the only glimpse that I would wind up getting the whole night (unlike Kyle who got to watch some of the awards).
After Chef Gold arrived, I helped assemble her dish (along with another volunteer and another chef who is a friend of Chef Gold’s) and served guests. The awards themselves ran from about 6:30 to 10, but starting at around 9 guests began to circulate and sample the many offerings. The dish I worked on was comprised of salt-cured bone marrow on a mustard crouton topped with a pickled ramp and parsley.
Things began to wind down at around 10, which is when Kyle, already a few drinks happy, came and rescued me. By then, the chef and her friend had long wandered away and I was manning the table with the other volunteer. We were pretty well-stocked at that point so I took off with Kyle and managed to sample the food and spy some of the chefs. We saw Dan Barber, Jacques Pepin, Rick Bayless, Aaron Sanchez, Maria Hines (of Tilth who won Best Chef: Northwest), and Michelle Bernstein, and I spoke with Jeff from the most recent season of Top Chef. I even got to see my boss, Ryan Tate (chef de cuisine at Savoy), looking quite dapper in a tux.
Sadly, I did not see the two people I most wanted to see: Tom Colicchio (who supposedly stood right in front of the table where Kyle was working for about 10 minutes!) and Michael Pollan, who won an award but was a no-show.
The best dishes I sampled were definitely the desserts. My top three, in order:
1. Warm coconut-cardamom rice pudding with rhubarb and kumquats – Kate Zuckerman (pastry chef of Chanterelle in NYC)
2. Beet brownies with Veldhuizen Bosque blue cheese, Miss Van’s honeycomb, and Swedish-style Texas pecans – Monica Pope (Chef of t’afia in Houston, Texas)
3. Toasted almond and rose bonet with rhubarb and candied rose petals – Danica Pollard (pastry chef of Lidia’s in Kansas City, Missouri)
We left the awards with our pockets full of chocolate (the Green & Black’s table was closing down and we walked by at just the right time) and a bag full of tequila (Kyle made friends with one of the booze promoters). It wasn’t the best night, but it sure beat staying home and watching the Yankees lose to the Red Sox.
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