When Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza, the couple behind San Francisco's popular State Bird Provisions, entered the packed media room at last night's James Beard Foundation Awards at Lincoln Center in New York, they were quickly devoured by a hungry press corps like some tiny little quail. And with good reason: They had just received the award for Best New Restaurant in the United States.
The Bay Area had a strong showing at the JBF Awards, with our homegrown talent snagging honors in six categories.
Often referred to as the "Oscars of food," the JBF Awards has been honoring culinary professionals around the country since 1990. The Oscars comparison is cute in theory, and this year's event had a Hollywood film theme, but chefs aren't exactly as congenial as celebrity actors most of the time.
The red carpet arrivals started out with some unspeakably glamorous punk fashions from the likes of Kanye West, Donatella Versace and Madonna -- wait, sorry, that was happening across town at the Costume Institute Gala (better known as the Met Ball). There were a lot of stuffy evening gowns and suits in tow at the JBF Awards, but luckily there were individuals such as Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food to spice it up in a white suit and green-tipped hair.
Bowien was nervous when he accepted the evening's first award for Rising Star Chef of the Year from Padma Lakshmi.
"David Chang told me to tell a joke, but I don't have a joke -- so that's my joke," he said.
Chefs aren't used to having a bright light shining in their eye and a gleaming medal hung around their neck onstage at an awards ceremony. Again, they're (mostly) not actors, so there were moments in the proceedings and acceptance speeches that were more painfully awkward than others. Also awkward was the frequent reminder of the evening's sponsorships. Product placement: It's the real thing.
There seems to be a common pattern of people receiving nominations for several years until they actually win. Such was the case for Sebastopol winemaker Merry Edwards, who called herself the "Susan Lucci of the James Beard Awards" when accepting her medal for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional on her sixth try.
That would technically make this night the "Emmys of food," but that's incidental.
Bay Area Winners at James Beard Foundation Awards:
Best New Restaurant
State Bird Provisions
Rising Star Chef of the Year
Mission Chinese Food
San Francisco and NYC
Best Chef: West (CA, HI, NV)
The Restaurant at Meadowood
St. Helena, CA
Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional
Merry Edwards Winery
2013 James Beard Foundation Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America Inductees
Chef and Restaurateur
2013 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award
Chef and Restaurateur