I laughed on Tuesday browsing Instagram when I saw my friend adam robert had resurrected the threadbare “Distracted Boyfriend” meme in reaction to this year’s James Beard Foundation awards – in which no honor was given to a chef or restaurant in Los Angeles. Roberts had labeled the boyfriend “the James Beard Committee”, the horrified girlfriend as “LA”, and the passing woman as “every other town”.
He was funny, of course, and expressed our civic pride and frustrations, and was probably meant to stir up trouble. It attracted some spicy commentators. They pointed to other cities, including New Orleans, which were also “robbed”, mentioned the little recognition given to Californian restaurants outside of Los Angeles and San Francisco, and rightly noted the much more diverse scope of winners, including geographically.
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The latter was the result of a year-long internal audit by the foundation that changed judging practices in awards programs.
After nearly five years as National Eater‘s Critic over the past decade, I know most of these restaurants and celebrate the most accurately represented survey of culinary excellence in the United States in this list – starting with At Mashama Bailey’s win for Outstanding Chef for Her “South Port City Food” (as she describes it) at Le Gray in Savannah, Georgia. My time at Eater coincided with my six years serving as the restaurant and chef subcommittee of the foundation; Food columnist Jenn Harris is currently a member of the subcommittee, and Laurie Ochoaexecutive director of Food, has just completed her last term on the book awards subcommittee.
Of course, I was pissed off by LA’s losses when the awards were announced. This was the seventh nomination for Marguerite Manzke in the pastry category; she and her team express so much Southern California in the daily selection that lines Republic’s pastry cases. Among the danishes, the crostatas and the croissants (the plain is superbly flaky and buttery, a purist’s criterion), these days I’m turning towards the brioche filled with a delicate earthy ube cream; a superb pandan-coconut-mango honey cake; and seasonal variations on tres leches.
Beyond that, Manzke creates dishes for the restaurant’s late-night dessert menu, like strawberry tiramisu covered in caramelized white chocolate sabayon or almond brown butter cake flanked by lemon verbena ice cream and apricots. the most mature. She should have won.
Eat your way through LA
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The nominees for Best Chef: California included two of our masters – Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanongwhose generous spirit burns as hot as the chillies in his Southern Thai curries, and Bryant Ng, which fuses the essences of Chinese, Singaporean and Vietnamese cuisines to create its own culinary language at Cassia in Santa Monica. A bowl of her cold blue crab noodles is a perfect comfort during our gloomy June period.
Angry Egret Dinette was a contender for Best New Restaurant in America. Why was its leader and owner not Wes Avila, nominated for the singular wonders he created out of his Guerrilla Tacos truck years ago?
It was encouraging to see awards presented to deserving winners in Detroit, Tucson and Honolulu. No city saw a sweep.
Have Los Angeles chefs and restaurants been overlooked by judges due to dwindling travel over the past two years, or as a reaction to the “Los Angeles is America’s Greatest Food City” narrative that we love repeat, or because LA’s rich culture is still not captured nationally? Analysis is useless. We know what we have. Go eat at these restaurants, and any others you love and want to see thrive. Rewards and recognition mean everything and mean nothing. Ahead.
– Speaking of restaurants deserving of awards: this week, I’m reviewing the moved, reimagined, and highly rewarding Kato in Row DTLA. When you have a special occasion or want to experience Taiwanese-inspired creations from one of our top chefs, make a reservation.
– Harris explains the panic of the shortage of Sriracha.
— The wonderful, weekly food court at the Wat Thai Buddhist temple has recently reopened. Don’t miss Jenn’s video documenting her recent visit with Jazz Singsanong.
– A veteran of Trois Dude has started serving pasta in Koreatown, and other news of the week from Stephanie Breijo.