If the arena of fine dining in America has an equivalent to the Academy Awards, the James Beard Foundation Awards surely would be it. Given annually to an array of chefs, restaurateurs, writers, journalists, graphic artists, restaurant designers, broadcasters, and people in broadcast media, the ceremonies on May 4th and May 7th this year will feature presentations to more than 60 honorees in recognition of achievements in all aspects of the industry, representing the highest honor for food and beverage professionals in North America.

The figure primarily responsible in cultivating the notion of a distinctive American cuisine (not to mention the first host of a cooking show on television), James Beard left behind a legacy that has continued to influence the realm of food in America – and beyond – with regards to education, appreciation, scholarship and development of local and regional ingredients and cuisines. Thus it is fitting that those at the forefront of food in America gather each year to honor their peers, whose accomplishments merit them the cherished medallions bearing Beard’s visage.

The JBF Awards weekend is certainly not the only occasion or program of note for the Foundation; throughout the year it produces a variety of educational initiatives, an annual national food conference, a Leadership Awards program, culinary scholarships, and publications – in addition to over 250 events staged annually by the Foundation in the Greenwich Village Townhouse where Beard lived. All of this provides the nurturing and collegial atmosphere in which all great cooking, and eating, may take place, and fulfills the Foundation’s mission to “educate, inspire, entertain, and foster a deeper understanding of our culinary culture”.

Of course, the magnitude of the James Beard Foundation Awards is in that it brings together at once a grand collection of food personalities and their creations, making it the social and gastronomic highlight of the year. The May 4th event at Gotham Hall (1356 Broadway at 36th Street) is the 2012 James Beard Foundation Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards Dinner, and the 39 honors given on the night are to those in non-cooking categories – i.e., all writing and media awards, restaurant design and the like. Chefs for this event include Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter in New York City, Carla Hall of Alchemy in Washington, D.C., Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook in California, and Host Chef Robb Garceau of Great Performances in New York; call 914-231-6180 for details and ticket information.

The Black-Tie Gala on May 7th at Avery Fisher Hall (Columbus Avenue and 65th Street) honors chefs and restaurants. Categories are broken down into Best Chefs in various regions of the US; awards for distinction in areas of wine, spirits and service; individual awards for chefs and restaurants nationally; and a number of awards given for career achievement (details on Award nominees can be seen on the James Beard Foundation website). Tickets are $425 for JBF members, $475 for the general public, with VIP tickets $1,500 individually and $15,000 for VIP Tables; call 914-231-6180 for details and ticket information.

Chefs for the Gala are nearly all previous JBF Award winners, and include:

Sean Brock of McCrady’s, Charleston
Sanford D’Amato of Sanford Restaurant, Milwaukee
Gary Danko of Gary Danko, San Francisco
Paul Kahan of Blackbird, Chicago
Bob Kinkead of Kinkead’s, Washington, D.C.
Sarabeth Levine of Sarabeth’s, NYC
Michael Lomonaco of Porter House New York, NYC
Keith Luce of Luce & Hawkins, Jamesport, NY
Emily Luchetti of Farallon, San Francisco
Barbara Lynch of Menton, Boston
Colin Lynch of Menton, Boston
Nancy Oakes of Boulevard Restaurant, San Francisco
Bradley Ogden of Lark Creek Restaurant Group, San Francisco
Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place Bistro & Bar, Portland, OR
Angela Pinkerton of Eleven Madison Park, NYC
Nora Pouillon of Restaurant Nora, Washington, D.C.
Andrea Reusing of Lantern, Chapel Hill, NC
Jimmy Schmidt of Morgan’s In The Desert at La Quinta Resort & Club, La Quinta, CA
Susan Spicer of Bayona, New Orleans
Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham, AL
Norman Van Aken of Tuyo, Miami
Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto, NYC
Tre Wilcox of Marquee Grill, Dallas
Alan Wong of Alan Wong’s Honolulu, Honolulu



Bryan Forgione of Society Café at Encore Las Vegas, Las Vegas
Larry Forgione of Conservatory for American Food Studies, ?St. Helena, CA
Marc Forgione of American Cut, Atlantic City, NJ
Sean Forgione of Wynn Hotel, Las Vegas



Steve Olson, akawinegeek.com