Hot Chefs, Cold Food, Good Odds

Forget your March Madness; for foodies, the handicapping of the James Beard Awards has begun.

The awards (often referred to as “the Oscars of the food world”) are handed out in May, but the nominees are announced in March, allowing for plenty of time for back-of-the-house gossip.

Generally the awards, though prestigious, are a bit of a snooze, as the same high-profile, long-career chefs, restaurants, and restaurateurs tend to win over and over again, and New York restaurants (followed closely by those in California) almost always dominate. And tickets for the gala don’t come cheap: This year, getting access to the black-tie event will run you upward of $400.

But don’t count on getting a chair for that price; while the lengthy awards ceremony is a sit-down affair, getting fed is strictly a walk-around deal, with various nominated restaurants handing out bite-size tasting plates to the hungry hordes mobbing the feeding stations.

And as if you needed more proof of how the star status of high-profile chefs is becoming ever more divorced from the food they actually cook, this year’s awards will be held in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. Glamorous, sure, until you realize that the hall allows “only portable induction and butane heaters in the lobby and on the promenade…. This year [chefs] will have to bring in everything cold or ready to be reheated,” writes Florence Fabricant in
The New York Times (registration required).

Out-of-town chefs will also have to beg kitchen space from local restaurant pals in order to do their prep, rather than having access to well-equipped banquet kitchens, as they did when the awards were previously held in a fancy hotel.

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