James Beard Awards – The Fuzzy End of the Lollipop


ELV® recently completed his final ballot for the 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards.

In case you’re interested, his ballot looked like this:

Judge: Curtas John
BEST NEW RESTAURANT: The Ordinary, Charleston, SC
OUTSTANDING CHEF: Gary Danko, Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco, CA
OUTSTANDING RESTAURATEUR: Piero Selvaggio, Valentino Restaurant Group (Valentino, Vin Bar), Los Angeles, CA
OUTSTANDING WINE & SPIRITS PROFESSIONAL: Neal Rosenthal, Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York, NY
BEST CHEF: GREAT LAKES: Stephanie Izard, Girl & the Goat, Chicago, IL
BEST CHEF: MID-ATLANTIC: Brad Spence, Amis, Philadelphia, PA
BEST CHEF: NEW YORK CITY: ! Wylie Dufresne, wd~50
BEST CHEF: NORTHEAST: Jamie Bissonnette, Coppa, Boston, MA
BEST CHEF: NORTHWEST: Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon, Portland, OR
BEST CHEF: SOUTH: Tory McPhail, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans, LA
BEST CHEF: SOUTHEAST: Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville, KY

Because he doesn’t work for a great metropolitan newspaper, he will probably never be invited to be on the final nominating committee, but he is an official “judge” and  judges do get to nominate and lobby for the restaurants and chefs they* think are deserving…as well as vote for the final winners.

This year he nominated Julian Serrano for Chef of the Year, Mitsuo Endo for Best Chef West, Nicole Grimes of Rao’s for Rising Star Chef, and Raku for Best Restaurant West. He also nominated Sirio Maccioni for Best Restaurateur (like he’s done every year for the past six), Picasso for Outstanding Wine Program (like he’s done for the past five) and Kamel Guechida of Robuchon for Outstanding Pastry Chef (ditto).

Needless to say, he wasn’t surprised that only Picasso (for its wine program – which should’ve won years ago) and Piero Selvaggio (of Valentino fame) slipped through the biases of the regular JBF Committe and voters to make it to the final ballot.

He also wasn’t surprised that none of our restaurants or chefs made it to the final ballot in the regional competition, because now that Las Vegas is part of the West region, we are competing with California and only California** for exposure and votes. Because of this, to put it simply, Las Vegas will now be relegated to getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop every year.

This means the days of our chefs (like Luciano Pellegrini, Saipin Chutima and Claude Le Tohic) winning a JBF regional award are ovah. Deader than Julius Caesar…as we now have to compete with the twin biases  held against us by California and New York food snobs plus the plain fact that any notable California joint is going to be serving many more JBF voters than any Vegas one.

In a teeny tiny personal protest, he did not vote for any of the California nominees this year (in the semi-final voting voters can vote for multiple nominees). Maybe after this article, he won’t be voting at all. But that would be a shame, because ELV truly understands all sides of this teeny tiny controversy — unlike some of our more jingoistic writers, p.r. and restaurant people — and even agrees with some of the criticisms the east and west coast food snobs have of our top-down restaurant scene (to wit: if all you do is execute another chef’s food, with the financial support of a huge casino, it’s hard to award you personal excellence in the culinary arts).

Regardless, our inclusion with California in the West region*** means there won’t be any JBF awards headed our way anytime soon, which is a crying shame, because Serrano and Endo really deserve one.

* approximately 400 food writers from around the country….many of whom live in New York, the Northeast and California.

** “California is not the West. It is west of the West.” – Theodore Roosevelt

*** see above

15 thoughts on “James Beard Awards – The Fuzzy End of the Lollipop

  1. looks like you should make a trip to the midwest so you can vote in that category! i’ve had to cancel a res at niche several times and will ALWAYS go back to bluestem/rye!

  2. With due respect to Nicole Grimes and Rao’s, a place I greatly enjoy, how can Chef Grimes be considered a Rising Star if the menu is the same one time after time and never changes? In the many times I’ve been, both for lunch and dinner, I’ve never seen daily specials or any changes in the basic menu. I love Rao’s food (“Tastes like it was made in Grandpa’s basement” is how I describe it, which is no small compliment, to be sure), but maybe don’t understand the category.

  3. ELV responds: Nicole Grimes will not always be a chef at Rao’s, and watching her run that pressure-packed kitchen is every bit as impressive as watching some young Turk “create” and do cartwheels in the kitchen.

  4. “slipped through the biases of the regular JBF Committe and voters to make it to the final ballot.”

    I love ya John, but with all due respect your ballot is rather biased as well, and thats exactly what I would expect. Since it would be unfair to use an example of said bias from our humble berg, lets discuss your Outstanding Chef choice instead. Gary Danko hasn’t done anything interesting in years, his glory days are long ago. I still enjoy eating at his restaurant, but more so as a novelty than to experience anything original.

  5. Thanks for clarifying, John; that makes a lot of sense. Rao’s LV is certainly a big place, and her talent at putting out a consistently high-quality product is deserving of your vote. Eating there takes some of the sting off the fact that I’ll probably never get to try its NYC original.

  6. Chef Nicole has plenty of seasonal and daily specials. And she will also cook off menu to just about any request. Just ask. As for cooking Rao’s food, it’s not easy making that type of cuisine sing day in day out. It takes a deft touch to make red sauce and lemon chicken the basis of destination dining, which Rao’s has been since day one.

  7. Agreed that Rao’s gets it right, consistently, most every time. I’ve never been offered specials (and I’ve asked), but then again I almost always eat solo at the bar when I go, though the bartenders shouldn’t know about the specials. But even their regular offerings are enough to keep me satisfied.

  8. ELV responds (to In theCards): I’ve voted for Gary Danko for years. His is no longer that cutting edge or creative a cuisine, but I think his body of work deserves to be recognized.

    Also he was the only chef I thought deserving, especially when put up against Nancy Silverton for a fucking pizzeria and David Chang (whose food I think is wildly overrated). I would’ve liked to vote for Sean Brock, Suzanne Goin or or Paul Kahan (any of whom might be the most deserving nominee) but I haven’t eaten in any of their restaurants….and I try to stay within the rules.

    My real connundrum was in voting for best New York Chef — since I have eaten in each chef’s restaurant multiple times….unlike my colleague Slapsie Maxie — who just got a vote this year and doesn’t go anywhere but Southern California and places way across the pond.

  9. And remember folks, the James Beard Awards aren’t just for Chefs. When the best Food Writer in America puts forth some of his best work in 2012 and doesn’t even get a nomination, then somethin’s a stinkin in that New York brownstone.

  10. Curtas you dumb sot. I’ve been on the panel longer than you, I didn’t just get a vote this year. And conundrum only has one “n”. But you’re an attorney-you don’t need to know how to spell. I go to NYC at least twice a year, and you know I travel a helluva lot more than you. But I guess accuracy has never been a goal of yours.

  11. ELV responds: Slapsie Maxie only goes somewhere when someone else is paying for it. If you look up “bought and paid for” in the dicktionary, you’ll see his picture.

  12. Seriously? You have a choice between Danko and Chang, and you voted for Danko????

    Sad face… Your input was for for the current voting year, not the past. If you were voting on the past then shouldn’t you be voting for Auguste Escoffier? (yes, I just snickered a little when I typed that).

    PS: “Bought and Paid For” when traveling to other markets for a local reviewer is totally acceptable. Case in point, your upcoming TV show. Nothing wrong with that!

  13. My views on David Chang — who basically does nothing more than dress up Asian food for white people — are well known. But otherwise, your points are well taken. ;-)

  14. I think you should try some of the restaurants in houston. Your distaste for the city is well known but it has some fabulous restaurants that don’t get considered by you.

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