James Beard Awards: Best Bites


Mozzarella maestro Nancy Silverton slicing baby burrata at the James Beard Awards Gala.

As I noted earlier, shooting at the red carpet and covering the ceremony for nearly five hours left me famished. Next up was the gala reception, two entire floors of food and drink tasting stations. Despite the deep crowds and the difficulty of navigating, eating, and drinking without spilling, this was ultimately the best part of the night.

Redandblack The picture doesn't do it justice, but Back Forty, the East Village offshoot of Savoy restaurant, served an incredible sweet, spicy, and salty cocktail called "The Red and the Black" (after Stendahl, nach). The drink combined muddled strawberries, tequila, lime juice, and black pepper simple syrup. What's more, the rim was coated with sugar, salt, and pepper. If you're into savory/sweet combinations, this was the perfect drink. In fact, I had two (need to learn how to make this at home).

Cheese_2TFS hero Nancy Silverton represented L.A.'s Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza with two amazing mozzarella dishes at her station. Burricotti (right) -- described to me as a "mozzarella balloon" filled with ricotta -- was paired with a braised baby artichoke stuffed with pine nuts and currants.. Equally delicious was burrata served with braised leeks and a mustardy vinaigrette. The dish was topped with crunchy toasted breadcrumbs, a genius (and delicious) contrast to the rich and creamy cheese and leeks. I'm filing this technique away for future reference.

Tamales Maricel Presilla of Hoboken's Cucharamama served corn tamales with a fava bean relish and a generous helping of sweet thick-cut smoked bacon. I really need to go have dinner at the restaurant. Now that I live in New Jersey, I have no excuse.

This post concludes The Food Section's coverage of the 2008 James Beard Awards: Want more?
»James Beard Awards: The Red Carpet
»James Beard Awards: The Winners
»James Beard Awards Live!


James Beard Awards: The Red Carpet


Clockwise from left: Todd English, the family Bastianich, and Tom Colicchio walk the red carpet.

The Beard Awards ceremony was preceded by an hour's worth of chefs, restaurateurs, and other food industry types strolling across a Hollywood-style red carpet.

Confused tourists traversing Lincoln Center stopped and gawked as everyone from established print media like the Wall Street Journal to web TV ventures you've probably never heard of, snapped pictures and shot footage of the arriving guests. I wedged myself in with paparazzi and took some shots of my own.

This has become a very glitzy affair, and while food stars may not dazzle or work the red carpet as effortlessly as movie stars, one minor gastro-celeb seemed to know how to strike a pose for the paparazzi: that would be Marcel Vigneron, the villainous runner-up from "Top Chef," season 2. Below, a slideshow of the many faces of Marcel:

After the jump, a complete gallery of my red carpet snaps:

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James Beard Awards: The Winners


Wylie Dufresne, nominee, and David Chang, winner of the award for Best Chef, New York City.

Listed below are the major winners from yesterday evening's James Beard Awards. Grant Achatz took home the prize for Outstanding Chef, Gramercy Tavern won for Outstanding Restaurant, Central Michel Richard was awarded Best New Restaurant, and Gavin Kaysen of Cafe Boulud won the Rising Chef of the Year Award. The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was named Cookbook of the Year. The complete results are listed at jbfawards.com.

Joe Bastianich/Mario Batali
Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca

Grant Achatz
Alinea, Chicago

Gramercy Tavern, NYC
Danny Meyer

Central Michel Richard, Washington, DC
Chef/Owner: Michel Richard

Gavin Kaysen
Café Boulud

Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson
Tartine Bakery
San Francisco

The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Ten Speed Press)

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James Beard Awards Live!


Thomas Keller makes his debut on the red carpet at Lincoln Center for the James Beard Awards.

7:17 p.m.: We're here at Lincoln Center live blogging the James Beard Awards. We've actually been here since 5:00 p.m., but technical difficulties delayed our start. Alas, here we are. To catch up, briefly, the ceremony began with an introduction by Beard Foundation President Susan Ungaro followed by the introduction of the co-hosts Bobby Flay and Kim Cattrall. Not surprisingly, there were several Sex and the City references, all of which fell a little flat.

8:03 p.m.: The big news thusfar is that David Chang (of Momofuku fame) has yet again been honored for Best Chef, New York City. The man is invincible. Look for inevitable wave of pro-Chang praise and backlash tomorrow.

8:16 p.m.: So, where are we? We're in the press room, which is adjacent to the main hall. Basically, almost everyone is ignoring the live video and seems to be discussing where the best parties will be. In fact, a reporter from a major daily newspapers is sitting next to me and just told me, "It's more boring than watching the Golden Globes at home." Hmmm. We're heading toward the last third of the program.

8:38 p.m.: Thinks have actually calmed down in here, and, this is amazing, the live video feed is actually showing activities on stage rather than a powerpoint-style display of the nominee and winners. we're closing in on the major awards of the evening. Starstruck moment: Thomas Keller just brushed by me.

8:44 p.m.: Outstanding Pastry Chef award has been given to the crew at San Francisco's Tartine: Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robinson, who takes the stage with baby in tow.

8:49 p.m.: Blogger sitings: Amanda Kludt and Ben Leventhal of eater.com, Josh Ozersky of New York magazine's Grub Street (with medal around his neck for his win at Friday's media awards), and Jennifer Leuzzi of Snack.

8:58 p.m.: Best new restaurant award just went to Central Michel Richard in Washington, DC. He bests Mario Batli and Nancy Silverton's Mozza. Richard, who happens to be enormous, bear hugs Danny Meyer, who presented the award. More bear hugs. Then, before leaving the stage, Meyer announces that Richard will receive a one-year lease on a Lexus. The audience cheers. It ws a beautiful moment when he won, but this is a little cheesy, don't you think?

9:01 p.m.: Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali receive the award for "Outstanding Restaurateur" and Bastianich accepts on behalf of Batali (who does not show). He thanks his mother, Lydia Bastianich, for teaching him to be a restaurateur and thanks his wife for "letting him be a restaurateur."

9:06 p.m.: The outstanding restaurant award goes to Gramercy Tavern and its owner Danny Meyer. Meyer gives a shout out to former Gramercy Tavern chef Tom Colicchio.

9:11 p.m.: The final award of the evening, for outstanding chef, goes to Alinea's Grant Achatz. Rather than thank specific people, he wants to tell the story of when he was starting out, 22 years old at The French Laundry. "I was in awe," he says. He lauds Thomas Keller and talks about his amazement with "the push" in Keller's kitchen. "I pulled that in thinking it would make me a great chef," he says. "What I didn't know is that it would actually save my life." Achatz, who suffers from a form of tongue cancer, talks about what this meant for his battle with disease. He thanks the audience for their support. "I'm kind of in awe. It's an amazing honor, and I really appreciate it."

9:16 p.m.: That's it. The ceremony is over, and everyone is heading to the gala to eat (finally).

9:29 p.m.: The press room has emptied by half. I'm starving, dehydrated, and light-headed. I'm going to get some food, some drink, and then head home. This is just the beginning of the evening for all the partiers. Look elsewhere for reports on the party scene Monday.

Updated 6/09: Read more live blog coverage:

»Liveblogging The 2008 James Beard Awards [eater]
»Liveblogging The 2008 James Beard Awards Continued! [eater]
»Live from the JBF Awards [Official James Beard Foundation Blog]


Sights and Sounds of a Fermentation Celebration


On a sunny Sunday in early October of last year, the corner of Orchard and Broome was transformed into the epicenter of international pickling.

The occasion was the Fourth Annual New York City International Pickle Day, presented by the New York Food Museum and the Lower East Side Business Improvement District. A wide spectrum of the pickling arts were on display (and for tasting) -- from the traditional garlic and vinegar brines of Guss’s Pickles to the modern stylings of pickling newcomer Rick Field and his Rick's Picks (more on him here), not to mention Korean kimchi and chocolate pickles.

The Food Section teamed up with independent media producer Melissa Waldron Lehner to explore the fermentation celebration. Ms. Lehner, a contributing producer for The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, produces a monthly radio series with Gourmet magazine editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl. With digital camera and recording gear in hand, we sought to capture the day in sound and pictures:

» Click to listen to audio feature (mp3) [to download, right-click and "save target as"]

» Click to launch photo gallery

Special thanks to Melissa Waldron Lehner for all of her hard work on this project.


Report: The Making of a Great Chef


As the temperature outside was dropping rapidly towards zero degrees last Thursday night, inside a lecture hall on the Upper East Side, chefs David Bouley (below) and Daniel Boulud (bottom) were contemplating the role of heat as a critical variable in cooking. “Conventional restaurant kitchens use too much heat,” declared Mr. Bouley. “We cook with far less heat than most restaurants,” he noted, as he extolled the virtues of balancing humidity and temperature control to properly roast a chicken, letting the fat in the skin melt first so it can “roll,” as he put it, around the bird in order to seal in the juices.

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Report: Urban Harvest 2003


A huge crowd turned out on Sunday, October 26, for Urban Harvest 2003, presented by Slow Food USA and the French Culinary Institute. The four-hour food and wine tasting extravaganza was a schizophrenic affair, combining samplings of some of the best artisanal foods in the Northeast with wines from a micro-region in Northern Italy.

The public and private spaces of the French Culinary Institute were transformed into a series of specialized rooms packed with cheese producers, apple farmers, cider makers, and hungry attendees whose eagerness to sample the food was only hindered by the long lines that wound throughout the cooking school.

From Valtellina to Vermont
The Wine and Dine Room, in the dining room of L’Ecole, the French Culinary Institute’s restaurant, showcased 17 wineries from Valtellina, a wine-producing area in Northern Lombardy, close to Italy’s border with Switzerland. According to the glossy brochures distributed at the event, the region proclaims itself “Italy’s biggest viticulture terraced mountainous area."

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Report: A Celebration of Heritage Meats

pigs.bmp“I didn’t know that you needed to saw down the teeth of the males so they didn’t tear into the sows when they 'want it',” admitted Matt Rubiner, Leader of Slow Food Berkshires, as he introduced a panel discussion and tasting of heritage meats held on August 20th at the French Culinary Institute. The gruesome anecdote opened a wide-ranging discussion that ran the gamut from organic farming to the social and gastronomical benefits of raising and eating heritage meats to menu-writing.

The event was put on by Slow Food USA, the American extension of the international movement to preserve and promote regional cuisine and local food products.

Heritage meats are like four-legged versions of the heirloom tomato—old strains of rare breeds that are being cultivated anew by independent farmers using traditional methods, free of hormones and chemical pesticides.

Featured speakers also included Tom Gardner, Director of the New England Heritage Breeds Conservancy, and Garret Oliver, Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, which provided bottles of its Octoberfest during the tasting. Mr. Oliver waxed, "I'm old enough to remember when pork gravy was like crack!"

The star of the show was farmer Dominic Palumbo, who raises Large Black pigs at the Moon in the Pond Farm in the Berkshires, Massachusetts. Mr. Palumbo first started working to save the “Large Blacks” (as he called them) seven years ago.

The Large Black breed is over 100 years old, developed in England from a combination of regional pigs with French and Chinese derivation. The pigs are omnivorous, eating roots, vegetation, bugs, grubs, and the “occasional chipmunk,” said Mr. Palumbo. On his farm, they also are fed grain, milk, and “garden slop.” The diet includes a heavy dose of minerals from the dirt which the pigs habitually dig through to find food. At six months, they grow to 200 to 250 pounds and can reach a full weight of near 1,000 pounds. They range free, foraging for food. “They need to root, dig, and wallow,” Mr. Palumbo explained. The result of all this, Mr. Palumbo pledged, was great tasting meat that is nothing like the commercially raised pork produced on industrial farms. [for an excellent discussion of the health and environmental issues involved in commercially-raised beef, see Michael Pollan's 2002 article from the New York Times Magazine]

The discussion lasted for about an hour before the tasting began. It was eight o’clock by this time, and although my stomach was starting to rumble, all of the talk about live animals, pictures of cute pigs, as well as the speakers' frequent semantic slips between using preferred words like “harvesting” into un-pc ones like “slaughtering” started to dampen my appetite. Luckily, an excellent Baltus beer from New Jersey, offered up before the speeches started, relaxed my mood, and any latent vegetarian tendencies (I have been a meat-eater all my life) were quickly beaten back with the arrival of food.

Dan Barber, Chef and Co-owner of Blue Hill, presided over the tasting menu of a Large Black, which included sausage, braised belly, and roasted shoulder.

The sausage was made completely from meat from the head of the pig, simmered in a spiced stock. “We don’t use the eyes,” Mr. Barber noted, which was comforting. We were each given a small slice on a toast round. The flavor was very mild, but what was unusual was how incredibly tender the meat was.

The shoulder was excellent—rich and extremely moist, but the surprise was the belly, almost entirely composed of fat. Both were dry cured with spices for one to two days. Mr. Barber apologized for the fact that some of the pieces of belly coming out of the kitchen were just fat and that others had a more marbled composition of meat and fat. "That’s the nature of heritage meats," he declared. "You’re not going to have a uniform product."

I took a bite of the opaque hunk of glistening belly, which did not look particularly appetizing. But the taste and texture were like nothing I had ever had. The cut was incredibly creamy, with a distinctly nutty flavor. There was no greasy sensation whatsoever, and one of the panelists even claimed that the belly was a “healthful fat” because it included many free radicals and nutrients. The sensation of eating the belly was in such a contrast to its unpalatable physical appearance that I can only compare it to the experience of eating an oyster for the first time.

From Politics to Purchasing
As the evening winded down, a brief debate focused on what some in the audience called the federal government’s “co-opting” of the organic movement. Many farmers who pioneered the organic movement before Washington began to regulate organic farming are now feeling left out and even reject the official organic label. “What we need is a nomenclature,” opined one audience member, to identify those farmers like Mr. Palumbo.

From the political to the mundane, the event concluded with a basic, but confounding, question: Where can you get this stuff? The consensus on the panel was that the only place to find heritage pork was at the Greenmarket at Union Square (most likely frozen before shipping). "But what if I want a pork chop on Thursday" (when the Greenmarket is closed), one man objected.

"Well, you might need to just adjust your schedule and wait until Friday when it's open," offered Chef Barber. "That's why they call it 'slow food'," Mr. Rubiner chimed in, to laughs.

- - -

In addition to Large Black pigs, Mr. Palumbo also raises Jersey Dairy cows, Scottish Highland beef cattle, Dorset sheep, Lineback oxen, Pilgrim geese, Narragansett turkeys, King pigeons, and chickens. Personal tours of the Moon in the Pond Farm can be arranged by appointment. For a reservation, call 413-229-3092. Meats are available on a seasonable basis. Bring a picnic cooler to take them home.

[For more reading about pork and pig farming, see the 8/12 post at Saute Wednesday].

Photo: http://www.largeblackpigs.com.au/