Last Monday, May 7th, I was hired to be the photographer for Huffington Post: Food section for the James Beard Foundation Awards 2012. Think of the James Beard Foundation Awards as the Oscars for food and restaurants in the United States. Considering that it’s my first time to be there, it’s an overwhelming, festive, energetic experience unlike most events I’ve covered in the past. I am very humbled to be there to cover this entire event for Huffington Post.
The Beard Awards is a mixture of hectic and festive atmosphere where celebrity chefs (locally and/or nationally) show up at the year’s most important food and restaurant award event. It’s a black-tie event so everyone had to be in a suit or in a cocktail dress. Lucky me, I had to stand and run around in 4-inch heels when a certain chef came across your path, and no one announced that he or she just won and try to flag that person down for photos (it’s impossible to hear anything from the TV screens in that crowded Press Room unless one is trained to read lips). Nevertheless, it’s a good learning experience.
If you’re inclined to read the list of this year’s winners here’s the official list. On the NYC level, the winners were Chefs Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar for Rising Star Chef of the Year, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park for Outstanding Chef (seen at the top of this group of photos, toasting with Chef/Restauranteur Daniel Boulud on the photo’s right), Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern (seen on bottom photo, second person from the left with his boss/co-owner Danny Meyer), and Jim Meehan and his crew of PDT Bar (2nd row, left photo) for Outstanding Bar Program.
After the three hours of standing and shooting for the awards ceremony, the lavish Gala kicked in. Since it was a public event, it’s crowded with hungry and thirsty attendees. There’s lots of delicious dishes that ranged from simple plating to beautifully complex terrarium of Ham and Parsley Terrine with fresh and preserved mustards from JBF Winners Barbara Lynch and Colin Lynch (seen on the far bottom left photo). There was a 10-minute long wait for the dungeness crab reuben since they’re grilling to order but it’s not amazing as I hoped probably because the cooks were rushing to feed the mob. The best dishes of the evening were the Heirloom beans with wild ramps, cracklin’ cornbread and tomato gravy by JBF Award winner Sean Brock of McCrady’s, Charleston, SC (seen on second to last row photo next to the Gala crowd) and the beautiful savory flan-like custard that’s topped with pulled duck from Jediah Hawkins Inn (seen on the top of the group of photos, right under the sculpted James Beard cake). Best desserts were Chef Emily Luchetti of Farallon, San Francisco, Almond Joy Cake (seen on the bottom row of the photos) and Port-infused Prunes with Citrus Creme and Candied Violets by JBF Award Winner Pastry Chef Angela Pinkerton, Eleven Madison Park.
Every year during James Beard Awards, there’s always going to be after parties. Since Chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park won his award for Outstanding Chef, he threw a party at his flagship restaurant Eleven Madison Park. Around 11:30 PM, he, his business partner Will Guidara and a few of his sommeliers gathered at the area that’s near the bar, where most of the party goers were. The DJ started to play “We Are the Champions” by Queen and they all shook their own bottle of Champagne, pop the corks and started to hose down everyone surrounding them in Champagne. After all of that dissipated, the DJ started to play dance jams that everyone who loosened up (drinking enough beer and Champagne) danced on tables and on the dining room floor. And this went on until the wee hours of the morning.
In all this was an unforgettable experience. It felt like a marathon photographing people but the adrenaline rush didn’t make me think of the time or my exhaustion until I really sat down on the cab ride back home past midnight. Would I do it again next year? Sure, why not. I’ll just come prepared with a disposable rain poncho to shield myself from the Champagne spray when I do go to a winner’s after party and maybe take a nap a few hours prior to the start of Awards.
To view more photos of the James Beard Awards’ Red Carpet Arrivals, Winners, and Gala, please click through the slideshow (or view my Flickr sets: Red Carpet Arrivals, James Beard Award Winners, and Gala):
James Beard Foundation Awards
Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center
1941 Broadway (at W 66th St)
New York, NY 10023