Posted By - Kate Spencer On May 08, 2015


The James Beard Awards rolled into Chicago this week with pre-pre-pre parties and post-post-post parties extending well into Wednesday. Well, it sure felt that way.

It’s Friday and time to reflect on what the James Beard Awards are really all about:  Fashion.  Just kidding.  It’s still about the food and the amazing people who influence what we crave.  But hey, the food world CLEANS UP GOOD.  Since most of the chefs in attendance were not cooking at the event, it’s hard to focus on what is normally the only important thing: the food.  Nothing like a Black Tie to really illustrate the characters and style that exist in the food world. Having a Black Tie event makes for a hugely entertaining and gorgeous night.  There were so many highlights….

First, Jessica Largey walked slowly to the stage to accept her award for RISING STAR CHEF OF THE YEAR at Manresa in Los Gatos, CA.  It seemed as if she was simply luxuriating in the moment.  When she made it to the podium however, after Jimmy Banos, Jr., put her JBFA medallion around her neck, she said, “Sorry that took so long.  I’m not used to wearing a dress.”  The audience roared. She looked like a million bucks. Gotta love her.

Emily Luchetti, James Beard Foundation Board Chair and Chief Pastry Officer for Big Night Group, was ethereal in her butterfly gown. Emily is a thought-leader and influencer who started #dessertworthy to “improve our perception (and consumption) of dessert.”  It’s a powerful call out to all consumers but really directed at the food industry: “stop feeding junk food to our kids at school and pretending it’s ok.”  Similar to public awareness that was heightened by campaigns to help combat drunk driving, Emily Luchetti demands that we all do our part. “You may not get pulled over for eating too many pieces of chocolate cake, but your life depends on it.”  Join the movement by only baking, creating and ordering things that are #dessertworthy.

Carla Hall. COOKGIRL knows that everyone is tired of the “so awesome she’s embracing her gray” commentary. But her up-do was the best of the night.  She looked elegant, powerful, stunning.  

Winner for Outstanding Wine Program was A16 in San Francisco.  It was a big night for San Francisco, making COOKGIRL’S THE SAN FRANCISCO PROJECT an even more lively and exciting venture.  Shelley Lindgren, Wine Director/Owner of A16, is a wine pioneer and, as a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, is part of the powerful network of women in the San Francisco food world.  The wine list at A16 is 500+ strong, with 60% from the Southern regions of Italy: Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Sardinia, and Sicily.  Pairing that list with the “cuisine of Campania and the wood fired pizzas of Naples,” A16 is on COOKGIRL’s “must” list. 

When Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski came to the stage to accept BEST CHEF: WEST for STATE BIRD PROVISIONS in San Francisco, they also took the “best couple” award.  Stuart paid homage to Nicole in the acceptance speech as she beamed in her incredibly gorgeous emerald green dress and stunning earrings.  Eater mentioned the fun fact that Krasinski was a vegetarian when she first met Brioza.  Seeing them on stage together?  #OneLove.

April Bloomfield, you’re going to need to be the host in 2016.  Your tuxedo was spectacular, we could listen to you all night and you have the cult of personality. That, coupled with the fact that you were so obviously thrilled for the winners.  It was exactly what the show needed – a dose of April half way through to get us re-energized and re-focused on the talent we were there to celebrate.  

Rohini Dey, creator of the James Beard Foundation’s program Women in Culinary Leadership, announced the winner for Outstanding Restaurant Design, 75 seats and under, which went to the firm for Brindille in Chicago. Rohini’s gorgeous sari was a highlight of the evening.  Loved see Carrie Nahabedian on-stage, obviously thrilled, with her family as she stood next to cousin Michael Nahabedian as Tom Nahabedian gave the acceptance speech representing the designers of Brindille.

Mindy Segal, James Beard Award Winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2012, came to the stage in a fabulous striped top, terrific belt and skirt.  It was modern, it was retro, and it was fabulous. OMG those shoes! Better than anyone on MAD MEN.  In the days leading up to the James Beard Awards, Mindy’s social media posts were exuberant and infectious.  She made mouthwatering cookies for the #ChefsNightOut on Saturday night.  It was a #CookieLove kind of night.

Mindy announced this year’s Outstanding Pastry Chef, the effervescent Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar and author of the recently released cookbook Milk Bar Life. Christina has often talked about how running is a key part of her life, so it was no surprise that she took the stairs two-by-two to get on stage and have one of the best #girlpower moments of the night with Mindy Segal.  Christina honored the “women who raised me in the home kitchen and the men who raised me in the professional kitchen. Dave Chang, thank you forever.” Oh, and lest we forget the fashion commentary for the evening: that dress!  

Lidia Bastianich. What can be said?  She’s amazing and inspirational and an icon.  Eater nominated her for President on their twitter feed during the awards.

The evening’s nightcap?  Nancy Silverton.  

Nancy Silverton is so cool. Really, really cool.  She had on the most interestingly beautiful dress and stunningly spectacular shoes.  She is such an inspiration to anyone who has ever built a business, the iconic La Brea Bakery, struggled during the 2008 downtown (Downturn doesn’t seem harsh enough.  How about “when the world ended for a bit”? For all of us.) And then bounced back with the successful Mozza restaurants, which she owns with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. Now on to Fancy Nancy, her line of premium gelati and sorbetti.

Can’t wait for next year in Chicago!  Thinking about what COOKGIRL will eat in the meantime….and wear to keep the food is fashion theme going.

Cook On!

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