If someone of the sporting type had laid odds on the results of this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards, the smart money would surely have been on at least one New Orleans chef or restaurant coming home with a top honor. After all, in the foundation’s category of “Best Chef: South” alone, four of the five nominees were New Orleans chefs.
Alas, that would have proven to be a bad bet, as that particular plaudit went to Chris Hastings, chef of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Ala., and no New Orleans chef or restaurant won in this year’s culinary awards event.
Then again, maybe the smart money was with the handicapping advice from Bret Thorn, a writer for the industry publication Nation’s Restaurant News. The winners he predicted when finalists were announced back in March proved accurate in many categories, including those of Best Chef: South, Outstanding Restaurant, Best New Restaurant and Outstanding Bar Program.
“These predictions are based, as they are every year, on the notion that the best nominees are not necessarily selected; the most popular ones are,” Thorn wrote in his March prediction. “Of course, all the nominees are deserving and I hope they all leverage their nominations to promote their services and improve their business. But the winners will be the ones about whom there is the most buzz, about whom the media, nationally and, more importantly, in their own regions, feel good about.”
Still, with nine nominees across the awards categories, our city did appear well-represented heading into the awards presentation, which was held May 7 in New York.
Donald Link of Herbsaint, Cochon and Cochon Butcher was up for the Outstanding Chef award, while Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s was a nominee for the Rising Star Chef of the Year award, marking the fourth consecutive year she has been nominated for this award. The four New Orleans chefs in the running for the Best Chef: South award were Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery, John Harris of Lilette, Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace and Alon Shaya of Domenica. Harris and McPhail were each nominated for the same award last year as well. Emeril’s Restaurant was a finalist for the Outstanding Wine Service award.
Chef John Besh was in the running in the foundation’s journalism and books awards for his latest cookbook “My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking.” And Times-Picayune restaurant writer Brett Anderson, who sits on the foundation’s Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee, was nominated for a journalism award for a pair of stories documenting the travails of the Collins family of oyster fishermen after the BP oil spill.
Here’s the foundation's coverage of its winners.