Thomas Keller of Per Se squinted at a monitor at last night’s James Beard Foundation Awards as it aired a live feed of the stage at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall just before Daniel Humm announced the award for Outstanding Chef. “I see two medals,” Keller said. “It must be a tie!”
If anyone could spot a Beard medal at 1,000 yards it would be Keller, whose own trophy cabinet is thick with them and who had just handed one to Jeff Katz from Del Posto for Outstanding Service. There were indeed two winners, and they were David Chang for Momofuku Noodle Bar, the restaurant that began his own Michael Phelpsian collection of medals back in 2007 as a Rising Star Chef, and Chicago’s Paul Kahan, of Blackbird. “You can’t beat Chang, but a tie’s OK,” said Kahan.
Though much was made of the dearth of New York City nominees this year, the marquee awards were still a New York affair, including two for Del Posto (Brooks Headley, the hardcore drummer who has helmed the restaurant’s pastry department for five years, took Outstanding Pastry Chef), Outstanding Restaurateur to Le Bernardin‘s Maguy Le Coze, who saw that restaurant through its recent transformation, and Outstanding Restaurant to Dan Barber‘s Blue Hill. The one notable omission was Best New Restaurant, which went to San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions over Alex Stupak‘s Empellon Cocina. Stupak, for his part, took it in stride. “What am I going to do now?” he quipped. “I’m going to open three more restaurants and write a cookbook.”
What he did last night, though, along with all of his fellow nominees, was take a quick tour of the gala food and bar offerings and then head for one of the many afterparties around the city. As the NoMad‘s Will Guidara joked, “If we’d won, we would have had the party in our restaurant.” But since the award for Outstanding Bar Program instead went to Grant Achatz‘s Aviary, the NoMad party was in a warehouse space in a nondescript office building around the corner. Unfortunately, the game of telephone that acts as the afterparty alert system sometimes omitted that crucial fact, as a team of Venezuelan architects (winners for 76+ seat restaurant design for Miami Beach’s Juvia) learned when they walked into the hotel’s lobby, only to find it full of patrons and nervous staff. They put their names down for a table and patiently waited.
What the party space lacked in the expected NoMad opulence it made up for in enthusiasm. The bare room was lit only by strings of Christmas lights and the glow of the big-screen TV thoughtfully set up in one corner of the room for those who needed to check in with the NBA playoffs, and tables loaded with bags of Utz potato chips dotted the space. The main feature was the dance floor, where a DJ was pumping mid-’90s hip-hop and the booty-popping began early. Stephanie Izard, the night’s Best Chef: Great Lakes, and Andrew Zimmern, who had presented her the award, stood on the sidelines, entertained but not moved to participate.
Del Posto, flush with victory, did open up for its own party, though the scene was more subdued. Lidia Bastianich toasted her team from the central grand staircase, and cases of Bastianich wineries’ finest were carted out until the bar staff ran out of glassware and partygoers began foraging their own from the waitstations and kitchen. Jonathan Waxman and Elizabeth Falkner held court in a back booth by the bar. After going home to change out of his white tux, Rising Star winner Danny Bowien made an appearance and stood chatting with Wylie Dufresne, who broke his seven-year nomination-only streak last night to finally win Best Chef: New York City. Though his competitors had been other local chefs, including the often-nominated April Bloomfield and Michael White, his win sent up one of the biggest roars in the crowd, which celebrated it as a true New York City victory.