On food: Predicting the 2011 Beard Awards

NRN’s senior food editor Bret Thorn predicts who will win in some of the categories for the 2011 James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Awards.

The nominations for the James Beard Foundation Chef and Restaurant Awards were announced March 21.

So were nominations for cookbooks, journalism and broadcast media, but I don’t cover those and so I don’t care much.

Even the chef and restaurant awards are kind of, well, I mean it’s great for all the chefs and restaurateurs to come to New York and celebrate, and it’s even better that they get to publicize their nomination and maybe drum up more business, but so many nominees return each year that there are never any great surprises. These will be the 13th Beard Awards that I cover, and they have all started to blur together.

Then again, why would there be surprises? The nominees tend to be talented chefs and restaurants that many people in their communities love, which is why they get nominated.

So I’m not saying that the awards necessarily need to be done differently. They are what they are; winners should use them for whatever they’re worth and those who don’t win shouldn’t take them too seriously.

This will be my fifth year predicting the winners, and I must say that I’m getting better at it. I guessed seven out 19 winners my first two years, then I bumped it up to eight, and last year I guessed nine winners. That’s practically half, almost.

My approach to these predictions is based on the idea that these awards don’t go to the best chef — I mean, “best chef”? What does that even mean?

They tend to go to those whose names are most easily recognized by the judges, who are food writers and past winners.

My predictions do not in any way indicate who I would like to win. For the sake of propriety, I will keep that to myself.

And now onto my predictions.

Rising Star Chef of the Year:
Aaron London, Ubuntu, Napa, Calif.
Thomas McNaughton, flour + water, San Francisco
Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon, Portland, Ore.
Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar, NYC
Sue Zemanick, Gautreau’s, New Orleans

I think Christina Tosi will benefit from the name of Momofuku, which introduced Asian food to many New Yorkers who had, it seemed, not bothered to walk a mile south of the East Village to Chinatown or two miles northwest to Koreatown.

Best New Restaurant:
ABC Kitchen, New York City
Benu, San Francisco
Girl & the Goat, Chicago
Menton, Boston
Torrisi Italian Specialties, New York City

Torrisi’s the darling of New York gastroscenti at the moment, and although it’s possible that it and ABC Kitchen will split the New York vote and the award will go to Benu, whose chef Corey Lee won the Rising Star award a few years ago and who still shines in the glory of the Thomas Keller empire as The French Laundry’s former chef, I don’t think it will.

Outstanding Restaurateur:
Bruce Bromberg and Eric Bromberg, Blue Ribbon Restaurants, New York City
Tom Douglas, Tom Douglas Restaurants, Seattle
Pat Kuleto, Pat Kuleto Restaurant Development & Management Company, San Francisco
Richard Melman, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Chicago
Phil Suarez, Suarez Restaurant Group, New York City

The judges, feeling bad that they dissed Jean-Georges Vongerichten by not voting for his ABC Kitchen as best new restaurant, will give this award to his business partner, Phil Suarez.

Outstanding Restaurant:
Blue Hill, New York City
Boulevard, San Francisco
Eleven Madison Park, New York City
Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham, Ala.
Vetri, Philadelphia

This one’s always a crap shoot, but if in doubt, pick the restaurant with the most famous owner. That would be Danny Meyer of Eleven Madison Park.

Outstanding Chef:
José Andrés, mini bar by José Andrés, Washington, D.C.
Gary Danko, Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco
Suzanne Goin, Lucques, Los Angeles
Paul Kahan, Blackbird, Chicago
Charles Phan, The Slanted Door, San Francisco

Paul Kahan is new to this category, and it usually takes a few years for a chef to win. Everyone loves José Andrés, but we’re in kind of a post-molecular gastronomy mood at the moment. I think this one’s a toss-up between Gary Danko and Suzanne Goin. I think I’ll pick the one with the homier reputation.

Outstanding Service:
Canlis, Seattle
Emeril’s, New Orleans
La Grenouille, New York City
Per Se, New York City
Topolobampo, Chicago

Emeril’s famous, but in my world I think Thomas Keller’s even more so.

Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional:
Sam Calagione, Dogfish head Craft Brewery, Milton, Del.
Merry Edwards, Merry Edwards Winery, Sebastopol, Calif.
Paul Grieco, Hearth and Terroir, New York City
Rajat Parr, Mina Group, San Francisco
Julian P. Van Winkle III, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, Louisville, Ky.

So many ways to go with this one. The Beard Foundation is trying to shake its New York-centric reputation. In fact, it announced the list of nominees at a press conference in Portland, Ore., this year. It was a classy move, but still, if you wonder which city is going to take an award, it’s probably going to be New York.

And that concludes my predictions.

This article originally appeared on Food Writer’s Diary [2]. Read the original post [3] for more predictions in other categories or to share your own thoughts and observations.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] [4].