Reflection: James Beard Foundation Awards 2012 – What A Rush…

Chefs José Andrés, Wolfgang Puck and his wife, Susan Ungaro
Andrew Zimmern of "Bizarre Foods" dangling his James Beard Award and his wife At the Red Carpet: Chef Wylie Dufrense of wd~50, NYC and his wife
Chef Daniel Boulud and his daughter Alix Susan Ungaro & Jacques Pepin
Chef April Bloomfield Chef/Owner David Chang of Momofuku Restaurants and Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar
At the Red Carpet

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.

Crowded...at the Press Room
Crowded Press Room

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.

Chefs Daniel Hum & Daniel Boulud, toasting to Humm's win for James Beard Award 2012 Winner: Outstanding Chef
Jim Meehan and staff of PDT, James Beard Award Winner 2012 of Outstanding Bar Program Charlie Trotter kissing his friend, James Beard Award Winner 2012, Humanitarian of the Year
Wolfgang Puck, James Beard Award 2012 Winner, Lifetime Achievement Award Hugh Acheson of Five and Ten and Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene, James Beard Award Winners 2012, Best Chef: Southeast
My best photo of the night
James Beard Foundation Award Winners

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.

James Beard House 25th Anniversary Cake by Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes, Baltimore, MD
Savory custard with braised duck from Jediah Hawkins Inn
Jasmine-Apricot 75 by Pegu Club, NYC Grilled Artisanal Cheese Sandwich with James Beard's Clam Soup that Cures by JBF Award Winner Bradley Ogden of Lark Creek Restaurant Group, San Francisco
Buckwheat blini with smoked salmon and Pacific Plaza caviar by JBF Award winner Gary Danko of Gary Danko, San Francisco Duck Borscht with Sanford Duck Brats and Caraway Cream by JBF Award Winner Sanford D'Amato of Sanford Restaurant, Milwaukee
The view of the Gala on the second floor Heirloom beans with wild ramps, cracklin' cornbread and tomato gravy by JBF Award winner Sean Brock of McCrady's, Charleston, SC
Ham and Parsley Terrine with fresh and preserved mustards from JBF Winner Barbara Lynch and Colin Lynch Almond Joy Cake with Caramel Cream featuring Green & Black's Organic Chocolate by JBF Winner Pastry Chef Emily Luchetti, Farallon, San Francisco

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.

Kicking off the afterparty at Eleven Madison Park
Champagne spraying at Eleven Madison Park’s After Party

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):

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James Beard Foundation Awards

Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center

1941 Broadway (at W 66th St)
New York, NY 10023

Categoriesfood event

I shoot, eat, and drink. My full time job is a hospital administrator. Moonlighting as a freelance photographer and food and travel writer.