There’s something refreshing about a media event where attendees actually eat. Add to that the fact that the most politically charged statement of the night had to do with honeybees, and you’ve got yourself a convivial evening. At NYC’s Espace last night, the 2010 James Beard Foundation Media & Book Awards were abuzz with familiar foodies, including Chicago chef and nominee Rick Bayless, Momofuku chef and nominated cookbook author David Chang, and everyone’s favorite Swede, chef Marcus Samuelsson, who arrived with a super-tall plus one in tow. The vibe was relaxed and upbeat (we hear it’s a lot more fun than tonight’s gala), and the cocktails were flowing: We sampled champagne and a refreshing gimlet (ahem, “Cucumber Mint Creole” from Pegu Club mixologist Audrey Saunders) before sitting down to a five-pieces-of-stemware dinner. (One guest evidently couldn’t handle this liquid feast and was escorted from the event around 8:30 p.m. after his tablemates complained.)
This year marks the first time the book award winners were announced with the broadcast and journalism awards rather than the chef awards gala, tacking on 12 awards to the already lengthy program. Co-hosts Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods on The Travel Channel, and Kelly Choi, host of Top Chef Masters, emceed the 3.5-hour affair with equal parts humor and efficiency. Zimmern took home the prize for TV food personality, so his demeanor and suit were boosted for the latter half of the ceremony with the ultimate accessory — a gold medal. [Ed. note: This probably distracted guests from his verbal slip early in the night when he said “recipe for sex” instead of “success,” eliciting a requisite round of giggles.]
More details and what we ate, plus a photo slideshow and the complete list of winners, after the jump…
There were nods to the newfangled world of new media and Twitterers, as well as odes to the fading presence of print. When The Washington Post food and travel editor Joe Yonan was recognized for best Newspaper Food Section, he told the audience, “For every print reader we lose, we have to gain 100 online readers,” to meet the paper’s bottom line. He closed his acceptance speech with a paraphrased quip from a NYTimes.com cutline: “This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.”
Among the evening’s surprises, 14-time JBA winner Alan Richman, who was nominated for three awards this year, was shut out in each category. The Cookbook of the Year award went to Colman Andrews for The Country Cooking of Ireland, perhaps a milestone in reversing the country’s cuisine stereotypes. Other highlights include Judith Jones’ standing ovation when she inducted Claudia Roden into the Cookbook Hall of Fame, Italian cookbook author and winner Oretta Zanini de Vita’s authentically touching acceptance speech, and a bittersweet win for former Gourmet writer Barry Estabrook, who took home the Magazine Feature Writing with Recipes award for “The Price of Tomatoes.” Former Gourmet editor-in-chief (and TV show nominee) Ruth Reichl was unable to attend due to a broken foot, but the recovering gourmand sent tweets of congratulations from home.
And in case you were curious, the food was madly delicious and ingeniously portioned out so we were able to enjoy every bite. First up, a trio of poached green and white asparagus, neatly tied with an herb strand, was light and flavorful under a veneer of “perfect blonde vinaigrette” from chef Gerald Hirigoyen. Second course: a John Besh seafood creation of redfish, brown shrimp and “blue crab pearls” bathing in a scrumptious, orange-hued seafood-stock (the technical word for this is “court-bouillon” if anyone quizzes you). The third course was (jackpot!) braised short ribs, which is typically flavorful enough to sate. But some brilliant mind, Suzanne Goin, chose to add cheese. This is why she wins awards. Baked ricotta, crumbled feta, pine nuts and black olives adorned the dish for the three minutes it took to devour. For dessert, Karen DeMasco’s masterful white chocolate panna cotta, which is a dessert we’re used to seeing as an unmitigated, gelatinous disaster on competitive cooking shows. Nestled with a loving spoonful of cherry sorbet and morello cherries, it was nearly the cherry on top [Ed. note: Deal with it] of a great night — until we swung an invite to the Chef’s Night Out afterparty at SD-26. Oh hi, spiky-haired Anne Burrell, radiant-faced Ellie Krieger, Mr. Thomas Keller, and man-who-ate-everything Jeffrey Steingarten. Jeffrey, thanks for looking at me like I was insane when I smiled at you. That is how I always imagined we would meet.