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Speaking with the nominees...

For the restaurant industry, it’s like Oscar night.

On May 3,the James Beard Foundation will bestow culinary honors on restaurants and chefs around the country.

Unsurprisingly, New York City is all over the list with 16 nominations out of 10 total eligible categories. In fact, New York was represented at least once in every eligible category except Outstanding Pastry Chef.

“New York has often gotten the most nominations,” said Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the awards. “I think New York is still the food capital of the country.”

Ungaro mentioned that San Francisco and Chicago have recently given the Big Apple a run for its money.

That said, she would never consider moving the awards outside of the city. “It’s one of the easiest places to get to. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to reunite in the city,” she said.

Asked what an award from the highly-respected James Beard Foundation does for chefs and culinary professionals, she was adamant: “There’s no doubt that for chefs and restaurateurs, it’s one of the highlights of their career, it’s a business boom,” she said.

“Rick Bayless was inundated with reservations at his [Frontrera Grill] in Chicago after winning Outstanding Restaurant. Dan Barber [of Blue Hill] was catapulted into even more national recognition after last year’s win [for best chef]. It’s the Oscars of the food industry.”

We spoke with Beard nominees Joe Bastianich, Michael Anthony and Daniel Humm ahead of the awards.

Q and A with Joe Bastianich:
Joe Bastianich is nominated, along with Mario Batali, for the Outstanding Restaurant award for Babbo. The restaurant has won many awards, and was nominated in the same category last year. Bastianich took a break from filming “Masterchef” with Gordon Ramsay to speak to amNewYork.

What does it mean to be nominated?
Babbo has won for Best New Restaurant, Wine Service, Best Service and more. But you have to be open for 10 years to be nominated for Outstanding Restaurant, so it’s a big award. It enters Babbo into the group of classic U.S. restaurants.

You own restaurants in several other markets — Las Vegas, L.A. and Port Chester in Westchester County. How do you think the NYC restaurant industry is unique?

I still think that New York City is undoubtedly the dining capital of the world. But bringing your show on the road is always very exciting. The whole U.S. is your audience in Vegas. And we’ve had great responses in L.A. too.

What are some special challenges facing the NYC market?
The New York City market is the most competitive restaurant city in the world. You have the best restaurants in the world. You have to bring your “A game” every day.

What are some of your favorite restaurants in the city?
Craft, Porter House New York and Grand Sichuan.

What are some of your favorite dishes at Babbo?
Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads ($27), Goose Liver Ravioli ($24) and Grilled Octopus with "Borlotti Marinati" and Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette ($15)

Babbo, 110 Waverly Place, 212-777-0303

Q and A with Michael Anthony:
Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern is nominated in the Best Chef: New York City category. He was nominated in 2008 and 2009 as well. He and his team won the Outstanding Restaurant Award in 2008.

What would a win do for you?
This is an individual award, but for me it’s an affirmation that the team we’ve put in place has embarked on something exciting. We’re celebrating American cooking and graduating great chefs.

Is NYC still the best foodie city in the world?
I have a biased opinion because I live and work here, but I do think New York reigns among the best in the world. At the restaurant, we focus on local ingredients and have seasonal menus. But that’s not to say we’re not open and inspired by restaurants and traditions all over the world.

Despite the fact that we’re coming out of a tough economy, we’ve seen chefs that have not put on the breaks.

You also see a dining community that has access to information faster than ever before through the Internet. We are able to share interesting stories and our guests have access to the information too. For me, the positive side is the dialogue. If you compare it to the rest of the great dining cities in the world, it’s more so here.

What was it like to take over for Tom Colicchio 3 ½ years ago?
This is by far the largest restaurant that I’ve ever worked in. While I don’t think there was a real intimidation factor in terms of stepping into someone’s shoes, there was a real learning curve.

What are some of your favorite NYC restaurants?
I have a 3-month-old baby so I tend to cook at home. But I do like to try new places when they open. I love sushi and if I could go anywhere, it’s Sushi Yasuda. That’s a given.

What are some of your favorite dishes at Gramercy Tavern?
The hot smoked trout with onions seems to catch people by surprise.

There’s a new dish on our vegetable tasting menu made with ramps, leeks and toasted wheatberries that’s very good. I think the things that come off the vegetable tasting menu are really unique.

Gramercy Tavern, 42 E. 20th St., 212-477-0777

Q and A with Daniel Humm:
Daniel Humm has been the chef at Eleven Madison Park for 4 ½ years. He was nominated once for the Rising Star Chef award. This year, however, he’s nominated in the Best Chef: NYC category.

What would a win in this category mean to you?
It’s really exciting seeing my name there with all these other talented chefs. Especially in this category - it’s New York City, the city in America for restaurants.

Your restaurant consistently gets strong reviews. How do you keep things fresh?
Every year, we have a couple of days where we get the whole team together and do a strategy meeting. We discuss what we accomplished the year before and what we want to accomplish in the year moving forward. We pursue our goals.

It’s always important to reinvent yourself. It’s good to be old and fresh, not old and boring.

What are some of your favorite dishes at the restaurant?
Whole roasted duck with lavender honey. Right now, we’re doing a spring lamb, where we use all part of the baby lamb. It’s exciting because it’s such a short season.

What are some of your favorite restaurants?
One of my favorite restaurants is Franny’s in Brooklyn. It’s a casual restaurant with great pastas.

Have you had any recent restaurants meals that really stood out?
Yes, at Aldea. I think it’s kind of underrated.

Eleven Madison Park, 11 Madison Ave., 212-889-0905


And the  NYC nominees are...

Best New Restaurant
Locanda Verde- Chef/owner: Andrew Carmellini
Marea — Chef/Partner: Michael White, Partner: Chris Cannon

Outstanding Chef Award
Tom Colicchio- Craft

Outstanding Restaurant Award
Babbo- Chef/owner: Mario Batali. Owner: Joseph Bastianich
Daniel- Chef/owner: Daniel Boulud. Owner: Joel Smilow

Outstanding Restaurateur Award
Keith McNally — Balthazar, Lucky Strike, Minetta Tavern, Morandi, Pastis, Pravda and Schiller’s Liquor Bar

Outstanding Service Award
La Grenouille — Owners: Charles Masson, Gisele Masson

Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional Award
Paul Grieco — Hearth and Terroir
Garrett Oliver — The Brooklyn Brewery

Outstanding Wine Service Award
Jean Georges — Wine Director: Bernard Sun

Rising Star Chef of the Year Award
Gregory Pugin — Veritas

Best Chef: New York City (Five Boroughs)
Michael Anthony — Gramercy Tavern
Wylie Dufresne — WD-50
Gabrielle Hamilton — Prune
Daniel Humm — Eleven Madison Park
Michael White — Marea

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