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Beard Award Wrap-up

Written By Scott Joseph On May 10, 2011

And into history passes another James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony, or, as it’s known in Central Florida, passover, to paraphrase an old joke by Bob Hope about the Academy Awards. The awards ceremony, a black-tie affair at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, is often referred to as the Oscars of the culinary world and is replete with red carpet arrivals and long-winded speeches.

Orlando chefs have yet to be invited to the awards as finalists. Winner of the south region, in which Florida participates, was Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon in New Orleans. Cochon and Cochon Butcher are wonderful restaurants, so I can’t deny that Stryjewski is deserving. But the fact that several Orlando area chefs are, too, can’t be denied, either, even as it is overlooked time and time again by the awards. In the past few years we’ve seen some of our chefs makes it onto the preliminary ballot, along with dozens of others. We even had a record number this year — 4 — although The Ravenous Pig’s James and Julie Petrakis were listed on one line, a rarity for the awards. (The other nominees were Scott Hunnel of Victoria & Albert’s and Hari Pulapaka of Cress in Deland.)

It becomes more and more frustrating to have Central Florida’s talent passed over, especially when there is a comment like the one from Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune, winner of the New York regional best chef award, who remarked that “if you open a can of sardines and a box of Triscuits you can win a cooking award in New York.” Ironically, they think that Orlando chefs have no more creativity than that.

So perhaps the best advice is for Central Florida chefs to start getting creative with tins of fish and packages of crackers.

Creativity, of course, isn’t the issue. The trouble is that, as judges, we must certify that we’ve eaten in the restaurants and eaten the cuisine of the nominees we vote for, which certainly makes sense. But when other judges come to Orlando they usually are on vacation, and probably stay in the Disney area or near the convention center. So they don’t venture out to try The Ravenous Pig or K or Luma or any of the other deserving restaurants and chefs. It’s a struggle, but we’ll get there. It’s just going to take a little longer than I originally thought.

Other major awards include ABC Kitchen in New York as Best Restaurant, Jean-Georges Vongerichten; Jose Andres, Minibar by Jose Andres, Washington, D.C., Outstanding Chef; and Eleven Madison Park, New York, Outstanding Restaurant. For a complete list of winners visit James Beard’s website.

Following the awards ceremony, the attendees crowded into the lobby of Avery Fisher Hall to sample the foods of the featured gala dinner chefs. There was a lot of wonderful food, and I quickly achieved overload. You know you’ve had too much when you come upon another food counter featuring duck filet mignon and you just have to say no. Best thing I sampled was the pork pasteles from Chef Mirisoll from Puerto Rico. Maybe if I hadn’t had four of them I would have had room for the duck.

Mirisoll, by the way, is a caterer from San Juan. Would like to see our Jamie McFadden included in the lineup, too.


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