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2012 James Beard Awards


Tujague
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Congratulations to Cathal Armstrong, Johnny Monis, Peter Pastan, Vikram Sunderam, Todd Kliman, and all at Fiola for their 2012 James Beard award nominations! (For a full list, go here.)

Congratulations to all our finalists.

My impression of Todd Kliman, and in particular the "Three T's," as Tim Carman coined them, years ago, is as follows:

1) Tom Sietsema is the best restaurant critic.

2) Tim Carman is the best reporter.

3) Todd Kliman is the best writer.

I believe these three "strengths," if you will, are by FAR the strongest individual attributes of these three gentlemen.

Tom is the only one who "gets" fine dining - we can argue about his beverage knowledge, but he knows how to dine, and is an asset to Washington, DC restaurant criticism on the national scene, as well as a great ambassador to the Washington, DC region (folks, you have no idea just how much). We're lucky to have him. My vehement disagreements with Tom often amount to a star. For example, "Tom is crazy for rating this place two stars - it's so obviously three, that it's almost unconscionable for him to say otherwise." That's not much of a divergence, my friends. I respect Tom Sietsema very, very much as a restaurant critic.

Tim is one of our last bare-knuckle journalist-reporters, and he's damned good at it. This may seem like a very unglamorous thing, but it's not. In fact, when it comes to journalism, this is what it's all about: reporting. I believe Tim is still green when it comes to being a restaurant critic - it takes many, many years, and tens of thousands of dollars to learn this craft well, and Tim simply hasn't paid his dues yet. When Tom started, after Phyllis retired, he wasn't as good at restaurant criticism as Tim Carman is now. But for restaurant journalism? Tim Carman has my undying respect, and we're lucky to have him.

Todd is the best pure writer, especially long-form writer, of the bunch (not necessarily about restaurants, although food is, for now, his chosen medium). In terms of restaurant criticism, I don't like what he writes, and disagree strongly with his reviews. We don't need someone from Washingtonian telling us where to get Tacos; we need fine dining (or moderately upscale advice). He is not a good restaurant critic. Nevertheless, his writing ability is something resembling pure genius, and I don't use that word lightly. I was very pleased that he was nominated for a distinguished writing award. When it comes to long-form, exploratory restaurant writing, there is no more gifted person I know personally than Todd Kliman. He is flat-out great, and we (on a national level) are lucky to have him. He needs to branch out into other areas and get proper credit for his ability as a novelist.

Three very different people, three very different, talents, none of which overlap. I like them all, and believe they all deserve to succeed in and be recognized for each of the above-mentioned things. Their weaknesses are glaring, though to a much lesser degree than their strengths. Again, I like them all, and we are lucky to have them.

What am I? A great restaurant critic (not in small part due to my extensive wine knowledge, and paying my own way), an untested journalist, and a lousy long-form writer (but a great short-form writer (a talent I never knew I had until I began writing on the internet)). Nothing like either of the above three gentlemen, and as far as I'm concerned there really is no competition between us (and hence, no professional jealously, even though it may seem like it when I get pissy at times). I am very, very happy they've each had the success and recognition they most fully deserve. I consider each of them my personal friends, and am proud to know them.

I like them all, and we are lucky to have them representing the Washington, DC area.

Cheers,

Rocks

PS - A special mention to Phyllis Richman, without whom none of us would be here. Please do not ever forget this - she deserves every accolade that is bestowed upon her, and she is a great lady. I am honored to know her.

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Tom is the only one who "gets" fine dining - we can argue about his beverage knowledge, but he knows how to dine,

Maybe. But his editor decides what goes in the paper, and his editor has a blind spot vis-a-vis wine. It's pretty clear that Tom doesn't care to submit any copy about wine in his reviews, so perhaps our own Mr. McIntyre (who is more than qualified) should do it for him? Perhaps a 75-word sidebar? I would think 7.5% of a review would be the minimum appropriate amount to spend on wine, which is often, for avid TS readers that actually patronize fine dining spots regularly, more than 50% of the check.

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We don't need someone from Washingtonian telling us where to get Tacos; we need fine dining (or moderately upscale advice). [Kliman] is not a good restaurant critic.

I agree with much of what you wrote, Don, but couldn't differ more strongly on this one. Back in the days when the Washingtonian wrote almost exclusively about "fine dining," it was boring, irrelevant. Kliman, like most of here on DR, treats all great cooking as equally worthy of attention, from Komi to R&R. He writes about meals that move him, that make him want to return. I don't really need him to tell me that Fiola, Komi and Eola are worthwhile; but I treasure his out-of-the-way "finds," his cravings for a particular dish at an otherwise meh restaurant, his perspective on how an old standby has slipped or found a new groove. It's in those latter cases that he has steered me to great meals I otherwise would not have had. And to my mind, that's the best thing a food critic can do. (Indeed, it's what you aim to do in your mini-reviews, often with great success -- why is that a bad thing when Kliman does it?)

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(Indeed, it's what you aim to do in your mini-reviews, often with great success -- why is that a bad thing when Kliman does it?)

Because I have 50 friends who can tell me where to find great tacos, burritos, etc., all of whom I trust, and none of whom are on an expense account. Couple this with the fact that I largely disagree with his upscale reviews, and I have nothing to draw on. *Except* his outstanding writing which is a joy and a pleasure to read; just not about upscale dining recommendations which should fit right in with Washingtonian's hyper-upscale demographic, and be his primary duty to the magazine (I reiterate: he probably has the second-highest expense account in the city). He'll take this as an insult, but it's not; it's a compliment - not many people can write like he can. If Todd were to say that Don Rockwell has the potential to be, at best, a mediocre author, I'd nod my head and say, "he's right" - once I get past a few hundred words, I fall apart - I'm a sprinter, not a distance runner. We all have our bailiwicks - his long-form and exploratory writing is a rare talent, and I could honestly see him being nominated for a Pulitzer prize one day.

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Tom is the only one who "gets" fine dining...

Hardly. Labored 2 dimensional descriptions and he is spoiled because everyone recognizes him. He reviews like an employee at Best Buy in a Renn Fair outfit with a wooden palate that uses Mad-libs and a thesaurus to describe to you what is written below the stereo.

To wit (from the latest review), “The fat hats of pasta, are joined by tender medallions of the same lamb, a shower of crushed black walnuts, shaved black truffles and kerchiefs of prosciutto.”

Great. But what does it taste like? Are they legitimate black truffles or the crappy Chinese imposters. If they are the real deal, everyone at the bar would smell it.

Or, “soft orbs shaped from pork, beef and veal and topped with a trembling organic egg and a dusting of pecorino."

Shit man, tell me how either one is cooked at least. You’d think everything he ate was raw.

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Cucharamama is a very good neighborhood restaurant-no more. It has nothing in common with the rest on the list. A dinner there a year ago was a a truly disappointing meal.

Right, but that's never stopped the Beard judges from making asses out of themselves, nor the New York-centric format from guaranteeing that the New York City area will continue to win a disproportionate number of awards at an increasing rate. Don't forget, there's one guaranteed regional award from NYC every single year, and those chefs not only become eligible for the National Chef of the Year award, but they also each get a permanent vote in the following years. Ummm ... think it becomes a little bit biased after a decade or so? With each passing year, the Beard awards become more-and-more representative of the rich getting richer - they're an affirmative action program for the rich. That's how they're structured, and there's no way for it to change without eliminating the bias towards New York City which isn't going to happen. So, they're inherently and permanently rigged, plain and simple. Get used to it because it's only going to get worse.

And just for the record, I think New York City is, by far, the best restaurant city in America. But that doesn't justify the playing field not being level. Have you noticed that before this year, Philadelphia has beaten out Washington, DC for the previous three years, and this year, the award has crept even further north to Hoboken? Where do you think these votes are coming from? Judges can only vote for a restaurant at which they've dined - if a judge lives in NYC, isn't (s)he much more likely to dine at a restaurant near their home? Why do you think such a disproportionate number of national awards come from New York City? In the years 2008-2011, 7 out of the 8 national awards for Best Restaurant and Best New Restaurant went to restaurants from New York City.

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Cucharama won tonight beating out everyone else. We drove to Hoboken to eat there several years ago with dinner the next night at Jose Garces' Amada where we sat at the bar and worked our way through 15 or more courses. I posted on here and Chowhound that I absolutely loved Amada.

I'm sorry this is a joke. This is the Mid Atlantic "region" and they are voting on a restaurant on the south side of the Hudson river and claiming that Hoboken is part of it. Some of these "judges" probably didn't even visit D. C.-they just took a ferry to Weehawken, took a cab two miles south, had dinner, and went back to Manhatten and voted for the Jersey restaurant.

It is an excellent neighborhood restaurant. But to measure this against, say, Komi or Eve-this becomes a joke. On our visit with Amada 24 hours apart it becomes a remarkable comparison. Yes, Cucharama was very, very good. But it didn't measure up to Amada less than a day apart. To consider it next to Komi or Charleston or Eve is just wrong.

The New York based Beard awards made a mistake tonight. A few more of them should have come south to Philly or D. C. and they would have found a more worthy restaurant. I am also seriously suggesting that the structure of the Beard awards should be changed. Hoboken is not the "Mid Atlantic."

Question is: do the James Beard awards truly and honestly represent the best restaurants? Or do they represent the New York centric interests where it is based?

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I am going to also suggest making a significant change to the voting requirements: someone can ONLY vote for a restaurant or chef if they HAVE EATEN AT ALL FIVE OF THE FINALISTS. At least for regional awards. The way it is expressed now is that a "judge" has to confirm that he or she has only voted if they have eaten at the restaurant they have chosen. It is not a requirement to eat at all of the competition. Thus, someone can vote for a restaurant in Hoboken, NJ although they don't have to taste one bite from another restaurant in their category. ONLY that they have eaten at the restaurant they are voting for.

How can you say that one movie is better than another unless you've seen the other? I might have thought the pork chop I made was the best I had ever had. At least until I had a pork chop made in my grandmother's 100 year old black crusted skillet.

Eat at every restaurant in the category!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is a change that needs to happen. At a minimum. I would have no problem then with a New York critic or chef voting for a Hoboken chef-if they had at least eaten at the Philadelphia, Baltimore, D. C., Richmond, Pittsburgh, Charlottesville competition-the other finalists. But the way it is structured now a "judge" only has to take a ferry to Hoboken from Manhatten.

This is also an interesting note on national awards: are they popularity contests? Or are those who are voting actually out there eating at the nominees? I believe that for a regional award a judge can only vote if they have eaten at ALL of the finalists. In truth, for the national awards, the same should be true-even if the number of eligible judges have shrunk to a handful.

Addendum: to me the semi-finalists for Beard have always been extremely important. Because I've travelled heavily for over thirty years I have clipped them out and gone out of my way to eat at as many of them as I can. Some, in cities that I know will attract few votes (like Anne Kearney who won the Beard award at Nola's Peristyle but doesn't stand a chance in southwestern Ohio where she moved) are the real winners. There are the truly passionate that know about them and have suggested them. Yet those who have a vote may not leave the city they live in.

This is the real loss. When I see a chef nominated for Portland (Maine or Oregon), Charleston, Austin or Chilhowie I know this is a city I must travel to. I believe it's not important that they win. But the recognition of being nominated is all that I need.

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I am going to also suggest making a significant change to the voting requirements: someone can ONLY vote for a restaurant or chef if they HAVE EATEN AT ALL FIVE OF THE FINALISTS. At least for regional awards. The way it is expressed now is that a "judge" has to confirm that he or she has only voted if they have eaten at the restaurant they have chosen. It is not a requirement to eat at all of the competition. Thus, someone can vote for a restaurant in Hoboken, NJ although they don't have to taste one bite from another restaurant in their category. ONLY that they have eaten at the restaurant they are voting for.

How can you say that one movie is better than another unless you've seen the other? I might have thought the pork chop I made was the best I had ever had. At least until I had a pork chop made in my grandmother's 100 year old black crusted skillet.

Eat at every restaurant in the category!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is a change that needs to happen. At a minimum. I would have no problem then with a New York critic or chef voting for a Hoboken chef-if they had at least eaten at the competition.

This is also an interesting note on national awards: are they popularity contests? Or are those who are voting actually out there eating at the nominees? I believe that for a regional award a judge can only vote if they have eaten at ALL of the finalists. In truth, for the national awards, the same should be true-even if the number of eligible judges have shrunk to a handful.

I agree, and have thought this for years about the regional awards.

It's much more expensive to travel to the five national award contenders (let's forget about the semifinals where you have twenty!)

Joe, it's better than the way it is now, even if there are a lot less voters. I know a judge who voted in very, very few categories this year because he didn't travel much. In Chicago, for example, he had brunch once, at North Pond, and it was lovely, but decided to no-vote because, while delicious, it wasn't *so* outstanding that he felt right excluding the others he hadn't tried. I thought this was fair, if futile. This is a tricky problem without an obvious solution and I don't think there's any malevolence behind it at all - it merely evolved in a way that people didn't think of, long-ago, when they wrote the rules. I'm an unabashed fan of New York City, but I would like to see changes in fairness. I'd love to know what Tom thinks.

And I'll say it again, just so I don't sound bitter, or angry: I LOVE New York City as a restaurant town! They are the best. No jealousy here; just reporting things as I see and experience them. I'd live there six months a year if I could.

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There was a time when San Francisco, Chicago and New York represented America's finest.

My wife and I had dinner at the Michelin starred Terrine in Munich two weeks ago and the chef owner asked me where I was from. I told him Washington, D. C. He said that not all Americans understood his food (a warm coq au vin ravioli next to another warm tube of pasta filled with a cold foie gras custard) yet D. C. along with NY and SF would.

We talked for almost half hour as the restaurant emptied for the night. What he didn't understand is that imaginative, innovative perhaps cutting edge redfinitions can be found in in Portland, Chilhowie and elsewhere (Jimmy Sneed was once in Richmond...). We've had great dinners at Table in Asheville, Soby's in Greenville, the Beach Bistro in Holmes Beach, Chez Francois in Vermillion, the Sapphire Grill in Savannah and others a long way from a megalopolis. Did I mention Fore Street which I already have a reservation at-a month from now in Portland, Maine.

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Does anyone know what happened with Jacques Pepin at the Beard awards? I got a tweet from Anthony Bourdain that said, "Jacques who? Pepin? How do you spell that?.....sorry, you're not on the list"

Me no understand.

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Right, but that's never stopped the Beard judges from making asses out of themselves, nor the New York-centric format from guaranteeing that the New York City area will continue to win a disproportionate number of awards at an increasing rate. Don't forget, there's one guaranteed regional award from NYC every single year, and those chefs not only become eligible for the National Chef of the Year award, but they also each get a permanent vote in the following years. Ummm ... think it becomes a little bit biased after a decade or so? With each passing year, the Beard awards become more-and-more representative of the rich getting richer - they're an affirmative action program for the rich. That's how they're structured, and there's no way for it to change without eliminating the bias towards New York City which isn't going to happen. So, they're inherently and permanently rigged, plain and simple. Get used to it because it's only going to get worse.

And just for the record, I think New York City is, by far, the best restaurant city in America. But that doesn't justify the playing field not being level. Have you noticed that before this year, Philadelphia has beaten out Washington, DC for the previous three years, and this year, the award has crept even further north to Hoboken? Where do you think these votes are coming from? Judges can only vote for a restaurant at which they've dined - if a judge lives in NYC, isn't (s)he much more likely to dine at a restaurant near their home? Why do you think such a disproportionate number of national awards come from New York City? In the years 2008-2011, 7 out of the 8 national awards for Best Restaurant and Best New Restaurant went to restaurants from New York City.

And, to follow up on my own post, I note that 5 out of the 10 national awards last night went to New York City.

Do people not see the basic problem here? Given that NYC is guaranteed 1 additional judge per year, and that judges can only vote on a restaurant at which they've eaten, the sheer mathematical bias of this is only going to get worse over time. If there's a flaw in my logic, would someone please point it out to me?

If we had transporter beams, maybe things would be different, but we don't.

To whatever accounting firm is auditing these awards: Please count the number of votes that Cucharamama received from south of Philadelphia. I'm willing to bet the answer is: zero.

Do I count as "local press," José? :)

Best New Restaurant

Next

Chicago

Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional

Paul Grieco

Terroir NYC

Outstanding Wine Program

No. 9 Park

Boston

Outstanding Bar Program

PDT

NYC

Outstanding Service

La Grenouille

NYC

Outstanding Pastry Chef

Mindy Segal

Mindy’s HotChocolate Chicago

Outstanding Restaurateur

Tom Douglas

Tom Douglas Restaurants Seattle

Rising Star Chef of the Year

Christina Tosi

Momofuku Milk Bar NYC

Outstanding Restaurant

Boulevard

San Francisco

Outstanding Chef

Daniel Humm

Eleven Madison Park NYC

Let me say again: I don't think there's any evil, or malice, or collusion, or conspiracy behind this. It makes intuitive sense for award winners to become judges and get a vote, but, referring to that well-intentioned document that was ratified in 1789 ... if you think guns should be illegal, you're pretty much out of luck at this point, and there really isn't much you can do about it.

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I don't know - I have been to a few meals at Mindy Segal's Hot Chocolate and I cannot find anything that comes close to the cuisine and flavors executed there, here in DC. If Chicago can garner two and this is based on the judge theory you are providing, Don, then shouldn't we even placed one or try harder?

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Would we do better if one Chef from DC was nominated rather than 4? Are the votes being diluted?

I think you're exactly right. Then, to complete the perfect storm, have the only alternative across the Hudson river. You could also have a political backlash from Philly not receiving a single nomination.

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Would we do better if one Chef from DC was nominated rather than 4? Are the votes being diluted?

Pick your favorite of the 4 DC nominees - Monis, Vikram, Armstrong, Pastan. If we all come up with different ones, then there's a good chance the votes were split because there's no consensus. On the other hand, if we all pick the same chef, then the conspiracy theory continues...

My vote goes to Monis.

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