by Ian McNulty
Commander’s Palace chef Tory McPhail won the Best Chef: South category at the James Beard Foundation Awards, which were held last night at New York’s Lincoln Center.
McPhail was part of a contingent of New Orleans chefs who traveled for the ceremony, which dishes out what are generally considered the most prestigious awards in the American culinary world. Together with Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery, Alon Shaya of Domenica and Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s the New Orleans crew held four of the five nominations for the Best Chef: South category this year. Jeff McInnis of the Miami restaurant Yardbird Southern Table & Bar was the fifth nominee this year.
The New Orleans chefs are no strangers to the James Beard Foundation spotlight. McPhail, Devillier, and Shaya were each nominated for the Best Chef: South award last year, along with John Harris of Lilette, while Zemanick was a nominee for the foundation’s Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2012.
A native of Washington state, McPhail initially worked at the (now closed) Las Vegas location of Commander’s Palace before being named executive chef of the New Orleans restaurant in 2002.
Commander’s Palace also figures into the narrative of another New Orleans chef honored at this year’s James Beard Awards. Emeril Lagasse first launched his New Orleans career at the storied Garden District restaurant, and this week Lagasse was lauded as the 2013 James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year. The organization recognized the work of the chef’s charitable foundation, which raises money through its annual Boudin & Beer and Carnivale du Vin events in New Orleans to support youth and education programs.
One other location connection with this year’s awards: New Orleans-based writer Brett Martin won a journalism award for a profile of New York chef Danny Bowein in GQ magazine.