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Jun '08

What This Year’s James Beard Awards Say About American Cuisine

In a recently published article by the San Francisco Chronicle, executive food and wine editor Michael Bauer points out that many of the winning chefs of the 2008 James Beard Awards came from smaller neighborhood restaurants and modest cafes instead of the more famous, brand name restaurants of previous years.

As the article says…

“In New York, David Chang of the modest Momofuku and Momofuku Ssam Bar beat out competition from high-profile places such as the Modern and Gramercy Tavern.”

Anthony Bourdain is a huge fan of Momofuku Ssam Bar. As he says in an interview with Fodors:

I don’t think it’s possible to overpraise Momofuku Ssäm Bar. I think it’s one of the few cases where a place totally lives up to the hype. It’s that exciting. Call ahead and go for the Bo Ssäm, the whole pork butt. They also have a frisée salad with a spicy tripe stew underneath that’s just mind-blowing. That’s one of those places where you just go and eat as much as you can.

Robert Stehling of the Hominy Grill in Charleston, S.C., won for his cafe that gives a gentle modern twist to Southern foods.”

(If you’d like to learn more about his win, as well as enjoy a recipe roundup featuring eight of his recipes, we recently blogged about it here.) You can also enjoy more of Stehling’s recipes here.

Michelle Bernstein of Michy’s in Miami said in her acceptance speech that she was especially gratified for the win because her restaurant is located in a part of city better known for prostitutes than for dining.”

Alas, Michy’s doesn’t have a website, but there’s a great thread about it on eGullet here.

Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita in Kirkland, Wash., won for her personal take on Northern Italian food in a suburb about 16 miles from Seattle.”

The Robb Report named Cafe Juanita one of the Best 57 Fine Dining Destination Restaurants in the USA.

What does it all mean? As Michael Bauer posits, “What all this says to me is that as a dining nation we’re growing up. Winning doesn’t necessarily mean glitzy surroundings, high-profile names and chic locations; it’s about how the people behind the stove translate their passion to diners.”

If Bauer’s right, that can only be good news for smaller local restaurants in second-tier cities like Charleston who choose to focus on the quality of their ingredients and the innovation of their menus instead of the finer points of their decor which are supposed to quietly complement rather than overshadow the dining experience itself.

Good news indeed.

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