The James Beard Awards Backlash

The James Beard Awards, held last Monday in New York City, are often called the Oscars of the food world. Chefs vie for nominations, and cities wear a winning restaurant like a badge of regional pride. Our own José Garces took this year’s prize for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic, a category he’s been nominated in twice before — 2007 and 2008. And while it is obviously exciting, isn’t it also a bit overdue? As his restaurant group gets more and more corporate, is it even as true as it would have been if he’d won two years ago, when he was probably doing more dish-creating and cooking than he is now with projects like an Amada Las Vegas on deck?

A few weeks before the awards, I spoke with Nate Appleman, chef-owner of A16 and SPQR in San Francisco, who, like Garces, had been nominated in 2007 and 2008. When I asked him how he felt about his nomination for Rising Star Chef (an odd category, I thought, for someone who has already appeared on Iron Chef America and won an IACP award for his debut cookbook), he said, “Hopefully the third time’s a charm.”

Appleman was up against Zahav’s Michael Solomonov, who told Menu Pages blogger Elsa Marvel that all the other nominees in the category had a better chance of winning. It was true: of the five nominees, only Solomonov and Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s in New Orleans had not been nominated before. Appleman did in fact take home the honor — but at this point, is it still accurate to call him a rising star? Are the Beards simple out of touch? Let’s hear what you think in the comments.