Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs event has always centered around tasting stations where past and present award-winning chefs prepare and serve a signature dish. Even though additional passed hors d’oeuvres make the rounds (Mood Food catered the last nine incarnations), most people attend the event to queue up for food straight from the chefs.
For the 20th anniversary event, held Thursday night at Espace, Food & Wine dropped the additional catering and put 20 of the list's big-name alumni to work (Daniel Boulud, Gray Kunz, and Tom Colicchio among them), not only manning the tasting stations but also making all of the evening’s passed food. “We wanted to keep the space as open and food-focused as possible because we’ve never showcased so many chefs on one night,” said Shanette Vega, the magazine’s promotions manager, who was in charge of the event.
Although the chefs did some cooking on site in Espace's kitchen, most of the work was done beforehand, so they could enjoy the event as guests. “The chefs prepared their dishes in restaurants off site and added their final touches in the prep kitchen at the event; being in the industry, they’ve done this many times,” Vega said. Kevin Patricio, a former Food & Wine staffer whom the magazine often hires as a food consultant for its events, oversaw the back of house. In addition to making sure everything ran smoothly behind the scenes, he coordinated with the chefs on their recipes and made sure they had everything they needed in the kitchen.
About 800 people (up from Vega’s projected head count of 600) lined up at six stations to sample small plates including poached lobster with pearl noodles by Gray Kunz of Café Gray, crayfish a l’Americaine by Daniel Boulud of Daniel, and snapper ceviche by Hung Huynh, the winner of last season’s Top Chef—and the only non-Best New Chef alum cooking. Passed food included fried oysters with Louisiana caviar from John Besh of New Orleans’s August and cheese beignets with proscuitto by April Bloomfield of the Spotted Pig.
Planners took extra care to make sure everyone knew what they were eating, and who had made it. In addition to handing out printed menus of everything being served, servers wore black aprons bearing the name of the chef who made the hors d’oeuvres on their tray, and lighting designers from BML Blackbird projected the names of the chefs and their restaurants onto the wall behind each station. Signs on each bar listed the ingredients of the five chef-concocted cocktails, like the raspberry martini fizz by Tom Valenti of Ouest. Beringer, one of the evening's sponsors, displayed a list of recommended wine pairings for each of the plated dishes.
To get the crowd to look up from their plates and pay attention to the award ceremony, Vega brought in a track-suit-clad dance team to do a short routine to a mix of hip-hop and Broadway music. “I am kind of obsessed with the MTV show America’s Best Dance Crew, so I hired Iconic, which is one of my favorite teams on the show,” Vega said. Following the upbeat performance, Food & Wine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin announced this year’s honorees, including Michael Psilakis of New York’s Anthos.