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NEW YORK Guests were already sneaking out of the Marriott Marquis' Broadway Ballroom as Gotham Bar & Grill's Alfred Portale accepted the San Pellegrino Outstanding Restaurant award at the conclusion of the James Beard Foundation awards ceremony. But who could blame them for jockeying for position? More than 1,500 hungry food fanatics who had endured a three-hour awards ceremony were heading into a tasting reception with 37 of the country's best chefs, and position counts.
The Beard awards, considered the most important restaurant and food industry event in the country (and one of our Top 100 annual events), was produced by Melanie Young and her staff at M. Young Communications, who have done the event for the past 12 years. This year's theme--the Spice Connection--was interpreted with an international spice market decor scheme that used authentic spices donated by McCormick.
Overland Entertainment staged the awards ceremony inside the sixth floor Broadway Ballroom, where the stage was decorated as a richly colored spice market, with glowing red, orange and gold fabrics draped over wooden frames and tables covered with spices. The ceremony was kicked off with a performance by restaurateur Drew Nieporent, chef Michael Lomonaco and their Overtime Blues Band.
Host Lisa Ling of The View kept the program moving along nicely, and Dot Giraldi produced stylish, well-packaged video tributes to Lifetime Achievement honoree George Lang of Cafe des Artistes and the New York restaurant industry for its efforts to feed rescue workers following September 11. A few highlights of the award winners: Jean-Francois Bruel of DB Bistro Moderne won the Gallo of Sonoma Rising Star Chef of the Year award, Tom Colicchio's Craft won the Illy Best New Restaurant award, and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich won the All-Clad Cookware Outstanding Chef award for Felidia.
The tasting reception immediately followed the awards, with masses of guests in tuxes and evening gowns funneling onto the escalators and into the Westside Ballroom. To match the spice theme, each participating chef was assigned a different spice to incorporate into a dish, and many used the spices to decorate their serving stations as well.
The tasting reception started to clear out by around 10:45 PM, but the party wasn't over. This year's awards after-party took over Peter and Penny Glazier's Michael Jordan's the Steakhouse, a beautiful, marbled space in Grand Central's Vanderbilt Hall that overlooks the main concourse. Even more food was served to the crowd that wasn't ready to stop eating, drinking or celebrating. And for entertainment, Nieporent, Lomonoco and the band covered some rock oldies for a group of head-bopping foodies including Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl and New York Times columnist Florence Fabricant. A highlight: Nieporent's spirited version of Bob Dylan's “Rainy Day Women” (“I would not feel so all alone/If Ruth Reichl would get stoned").
Monday's awards show was a culmination of a series of food-related events that started with the foundation's Journalism awards at the Grand Hyatt on Friday, May 3. The weekend's parties included a cocktail party for nominees, chefs and press at Wallse on Saturday. On Sunday, Daniel Boulud feted his three chef-nominees with a casual, fun brunch at Cafe Boulud that spilled into the street. The Four Seasons restaurant hosted the annual Beard birthday dinner; and Bon Appetit's Chef's Night Out at the large, beautiful Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse started at 9:30 PM and went into the early morning. American Express held a seminar for restaurateurs at Ruby Foo's on Monday morning.
--Suzanne Ito & Chad Kaydo
Read our Impresario profile of Melanie Young...
Read about last year's awards...
Read a list of New York award winners...
See the invite from this event...