James Beard Awards time

Once again, North Carolina is well represented in the semifinalists for the James Beard Awards, which were just announced.

Magnolia Grill in Durham was nominated for Outstanding Restaurant.

Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh was nominated for Best Chef Southeast, as was Scott Howell of Nana’s in Durham and Aaron Vandemark of Panciuto in Hillsborough. Other North Carolina nominees in that category were John Fleer of Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley in Cashiers and Vivian Howard of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston. The nomination is a vote of confidence for Howard as she works to reopen the restaurant after a fire a few weeks ago.

Sean Lilly Wilson of Fullsteam Brewery in Durham was nominated in the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional category.

Katie Button of Curate in Asheville was nominated in the Rising Star Chef category for new chefs.

Five finalists will be selected in each category on March 19, and the winners will be announced at a gala in New York on May 7.

Carolina class

I had been warned that the James Beard Awards Gala in New York was a mob scene, but no one mentioned that potbellied pigs would be in attendance. As I joined the hordes on May 9 in the post-awards crawl through the area outside Avery Fisher Hall where nearly 60 tables of food and drink from restaurants across the country sat, there they were. In black tie, of course. Those were working pigs, promoting WhistlePig Whiskey.

Before diving into the cocktails, food and milling thousands, I had the privilege of seeing Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, N.C. honored as an American Classic – and viewing chef Bill Smith resplendent in an Alexander Julian tux with Carolina Blue jacket lining. (A surprise gift from Julian, who also designed the Tar Heels’ basketball uniforms.) That was appropriate, since comedian and Cooking Channel show host Mo Rocca said Crook’s was a place where UNC and Duke fans can come together. Rocca obviously hasn’t spent much time here during basketball season – I fear that not even Smith’s wonderful shrimp and grits or honeysuckle sorbet could accomplish a detente. In a classy touch, Smith thanked his Hispanic cooks in Spanish.

North Carolina really brought the class to the awards, with Andrea Reusing, chef of Lantern in Chapel Hill, going home with Best Chef: Southeast honors.

But what y’all want to know is what I ate, right? One standout for me was from Rachel Yang of Joule in Seattle: A combination of buttery smoked walu (also known as escolar) with a fennel and bean paste. A simple combination that showed how the good stuff works together was thinly sliced Spanish ham topped with American caviar from Jose Andres of Washington, D.C. Andy Ricker, chef of Pok Pok in Portland, Ore., fresh off his Best Chef: Northwest win, was sending out cubes of rice cakes in pumpkin and melon flavors. And perhaps because of the excesses around me, salmon sushi from Sushi Zen of New York hit a soothing spot as I was on my way to cocktails.

I am always surprised at how many random people have connections to North Carolina. I met bartenders serving powerful vodka martinis, PR folks smiling and handing out business cards, restaurateurs – all with some connection to the Tar Heel State.

If you want all the awards, visit here.

Food fight

It’s starting to look like an elementary school cafeteria on spaghetti day out there on the Internet. The noodles are flying. If you’re not simmered in the food writing world, here’s what’s happening.

The James Beard Awards added a new writing category this year, Humor. One of the nominees is an imaginary character: Ruth Bourdain. Not his/her real name, but a collision of the attitudes of Ruth Reichl, formerly of Gourmet; and Anthony Bourdain, the tall and opinionated omnivore of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations.” (He’s usually described as a “bad boy chef,” which is wrong on several counts, besides being so cliche that the phrase should be somewhere in the Pina Colada Song. I will not use it.) RuBo’s tweets are retweeted like hysterical circling crows. As we say in the South, she’s/he’s a hoot. RuBo’s actual identity isn’t known.

I sent a thought to my fellow members of the Association of Food Journalists about a person writing under an assumed name being nominated in what is, supposedly, journalism awards.

I put my name on everything I write, from this blog to my articles and books to Twitter and Facebook. I am responsible for my writing and any consequences of it. Would I write differently if I were Bullwinkle J. Moose instead (although we share a middle initial)? Possibly. Can readers believe someone writing under a fake name? Does it even matter anymore, especially with humor writing, which I’m guilty of perpetrating, too? Y’all tell me.

Anyway, the discussion which followed the AFJ comments ended up in a blog in the Dallas Observer, here.

Now, it’s meatballs at 40 paces. Anthony Bourdain let loose on the Beards, and food writers in general, here with all the subtlety of the bucket of blood dropping on Carrie.  Today, a volley from CNN’s Eatocracy here.

One thing is for sure – the Beards haven’t had this much publicity in years.

Light a lantern for Beard finalists

Congratulations to Andrea Reusing of Chapel Hill’s Lantern restaurant for making the final six for Best Chef: Southeast in the James Beard Awards. The finalists were announced today, and winners will be named May 9. Another North Carolina chef is among the finalists: John Fleer, chef of Canyon Kitchen in Cashiers. The others are Hugh Acheson of Athens, GA.; Craig Deihl of Charleston, S.C.;  Linton Hopkins of Atlanta; and Edward Lee of Louisville, KY.

Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill has been named an American Classic, one of four restaurants to receive that designation.


Congratulations, nominees

The final nominations for the James Beard Awards were announced today, and two Triangle chefs remain in the running for the national honors. Andrea Reusing of Lantern and Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner, both in Chapel Hill, N.C., are two of the five nominees for Best Chef Southeast. The other nominees are Sean Brock of McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C. and Hugh Acheson of Five and Ten in Athens, Ga.

Find out more about the awards here.

Triangle James Beard Award semi-finalists

The James Beard Awards semi-finalists were announced today, and there are a number of Triangle chefs and restaurants on the list. The awards recognize excellent chefs and restaurants around the country, and have been called the Oscars of the food world.

Magnolia Grill in Durham, N.C. and Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, N.C. are semi-finalists for Outstanding Restaurant. Magnolia Grill is also a semi-finalist for Outstanding Service

Four Triangle chefs are semi-finalists for Best Chef-Southeast: Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, N.C., Scott Howell of Nana’s in Durham, Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill and Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner.

Beyond the Triangle, Good Food on Montford in Charlotte, N.C. is a semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant. Eric Solomon of European Cellars/Eric Solomon Selections in Charlotte has been nominated for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional. Asheville, N.C. chef Jacob Sessoms of Table is also a semi-finalists for Best Chef-Southeast.

As best I can remember, this may be the most North Carolina semi-finalists ever in the awards. It shows how the state’s restaurant scene has advanced and drawn national attention.

The final nominees will be announced on March 22, and the awards will be presented in New York on May 3. For more information about the James Beard Foundation and the awards, go here.