This weekend marks the return of the annual James Beard Foundation Awards
extravaganza in the Big Apple.
Named for “father of American gastronomy” James Beard, the prestigious awards are a celebration of the nation’s best chefs, restaurants, and food journalists. The weekend-long festivities will peak on Sunday night with a black-tie gala at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, sort of like the Academy Awards but with a way better spread. And for the second year in a row, Cleveland’s own Iron Chef, Michael Symon (Lola
, Lolita), will be carrying the C-Town banner at the event, as one of five nominees for Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region. ...
Historically, it’s a category dominated by high-profile Chicago chefs. In fact, it took years for a Cleveland chef to even make it onto the list of nominees, leading some insiders to wonder if Cleveland’s dining scene could ever blossom in Chicago’s shadow. Symon’s 2007 nomination finally broke that curse. But to no one’s actual surprise, last year’s award went to Grant Achatz, the groundbreaking chef of Chicago’s critically acclaimed Alinea www.alinea-restaurant.com.
True to form, Chicago chefs once again dominate this year’s field. But at least there’s no Achatz-like juggernaut in Symon’s way. In fact, with competition that includes Graham Elliot Bowles of Avenues (Chicago); Carrie Nahabedian of Naha (Chicago); Bruce Sherman of North Pond (Chicago); and Alex Young of Zingerman's Roadhouse (Ann Arbor, Michigan), one could argue that Iron Chef Symon – who also hosts the Food Network’s Dinner: Impossible series and is opening his third restaurant, Roast, in Detroit this fall -- has the biggest buzz of the bunch.
Not that the awards are a popularity contest. We’re just sayin’: We’ve got a good feeling about Symon’s chances this year.
The predictably self-effacing Symon, though, is far more modest: “I’ll do my best to lose again with dignity,” he laughs.
Check back here Monday for the results. -- Elaine T. Cicora
Read Elaine Cicora's restaurant reviews, food news, and comprehensive dining guide on the restaurant page at