There are many reasons to enjoy the James Beard Awards. The big one, held last night at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, is a tribute to the hospitality industry, to its star chefs and sommeliers, to the country’s best new restaurants and most beloved older ones; to lifetime achievement awards, and to those who are feeding our planet in deeply nourishing ways — from Farmer Lee, to the guiding lights behind FareStart, a Seattle-based nonprofit that provides culinary job training and placement for homeless and disadvantaged individuals, who deservedly won this year’s Humanitarian Award. It is also a nod to the ingenuity of the many chefs who fed the thousands of us last night, cocktail-party style, with an impressive assemblage of sophisticated and delicious small bites reflecting the “melting pot” that now defines us. I drank the best tequila I ever had, tried a kickass rose wine from Bedell Cellars, and sipped a supple grenacha from Spain between breaks.
It’s a long night, after all, “the Oscars” of the food world. There was a sense of jubilation all evening, but for me, one of the most anticipated categories was best new restaurant. And the winner?…ABC Kitchen! I was thrilled as it was my favorite new restaurant this year. I have been dozens of times, experiencing something delicious and also intangible each time. As a farm-to table restaurant with the majority of its ingredients coming from nearby farms, it is the mission that drives the food — green in every way imaginable — done in contradictory elegance and sophistication. While Jean-Georges, whose restaurant it is, has always been my hero, ABC’s chef, Dan Kluger, is an up-and-coming star. He is the very best of the new generation of chefs — tattoo-less in fact — centered, smart, and affable, who possesses an amazing palate. Dan runs counter to the ‘bad-boy’ persona of so many young chefs today because he possesses real confidence and skill. He’s a breath of fresh air.
But the real creative spirits behind the restaurant are, in fact, Paulette Cole and Amy Chender, who intuited the food world’s next step and conjured up a magical dining room to showcase the artistry of the planet — from its natural resources to its edible gifts. Paulette is the stunning visionary behind abc home and Amy is its beautiful COO. They are mindful of the earth and continue to foster the majesty of Dan’s food. Their mission statement, running the entire length of the back of the menu, should be required reading. I am so pleased for them. And for Dan. But hey, reservations may be hard to come by.