But, let’s get down to what Grace is best known for – the huge, beautiful dessert trays that are ushered throughout the dining room by delicate ladies before eager eyes. It reaches most people’s table (as it did ours), just as you’re finishing lunch. A lady and gentleman describe each dessert and you make your choice. It sounds easy enough, but it’s a grueling decision! Everything is dressed with freshly whipped cream and mint and one is as beautiful as the next ($4 each). The Huguenot Torte, a crunchy, sweet meringue concoction is an especially warranted indulgence that I personally look forward to every year, but really, all desserts are exceptional.
For a writer, there are many notable firsts.
The first published work, the first published book, the first royalty check, the first regional award, and then, for a food writer there is la creme de la creme, a coveted James Beard Award. Commonly and aptly described as The Oscars of the food world, this annual event lauds the best of the best in the world of wine and food including writers, chefs, cookbook authors, journalists, media, food TV personalities/programming, and producers of food. It is, to say the very least, a big deal to win a “Beard”.
So, even though I haven’t yet experienced my Beard big first, a nomination (or, dare I name it?) an award, I decided it was time to go to New York and experience the awards ceremony myself. Added mental justifications included the facts that Charleston-based chef, Craig Deihl of Cypress, was a nominee for Best Chef Southeast and my friend Laurie McNeill, most serendipitously, was scheduled to be in town at the same time. Thus, despite a looming deadline, I could not find a single excuse not to go. But, what to expect?
I didn’t have a clue, but I knew I had to get a fancy dress and do my best to have a grand time without making a Champagne-laced fool of myself. So, on the day of the awards (this past Monday), I went off to a spa and spent much of the morning doing the whole manicure, pedicure and facial gig, later napped, and got dressed. These efforts, at least according to initial passerby’s commentary, seemed to have paid off. The man who took this picture (above) told me that I was “beautiful” and should not be working, but instead, be married to a very rich man and passing my days eating bon bons and drinking Champagne. Bring it! These were most welcome words, indeed, given that I’m 46 years old and, just hours ago, my face had been described as “congested” and my upper lip as “hairy” by my well-intended but painfully blunt facialist. A smiling man, drooling frozen yogurt down his lurching chin as he passed, added ironic fuel to my rather weak, but growing confidence fire. Next, it was off to the awards and The Lincoln Center!
The Charleston Contingent
A full hour before the show even began, there was a sea of black tuxedos, pretty faces, and television cameras clogging the entrance. Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse were both being interviewed. Alas, I saw not a familiar friend face in the crowd. Inside, it was more of the same, until I saw a group of friends and colleagues that a nearby columnist deemed “The Charleston Contingent”. Another apt description!
Cypress executive chef and Best Chef Southeast nominee Craig Deihl was there, beaming with palpable joy and nervous anticipation, his lovely wife, Colleen, by his side. With them, were long-time friends and colleagues and Charleston Wine and Food Festival VIP’s, Angel Postell and Randi Weinstein, both radiant and cheering Craig on with the rest of us. (Later, I would run into many of the leading members of HMGI, the restaurant group that owns Cypress and who came to town to support their affable and talented main-man chef).
Eventually, the doors to the auditorium opened and the crowd of approximately 2,000 foodies slowly found their seats. For the sake of brevity, I’ll limit the description of the actual ceremony to my three strongest impressions: 1) Beautifully produced and orchestrated, 2) Emotionally moving, and 3) Too long, totalling a total of three hours. The details in the planning, particularly in the many videos produced for certain honorees, were mesmerizing. Many of the speeches showcased a heart-warming sense of pride, passion, humility, and a sense of unity among the chefs present. One of the most moving (and, also the longest) speeches was by Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Kevin Zraly, who kicked it off with (count ’em!) nine push-ups and ended it with a moving ode to the 72 friends and colleagues he (and the world) lost at Windows on the World on 9/11. Alas, Chef Deihl did not have an opportunity to take the stage, as Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, NC took home the Southeast chef’s prize, graciously praising her fellow Southeast nominees as she did so.
After the official ceremonies concluded (and a little bit before for some of the hungry masses), the crowd disseminated through table upon table heaping with delices bearing the edible “Ultimate Melting Pot” theme of the evening. Champagne, wine, and whiskey were freely poured to help wash it all down. Even though the entire place was generously peppered with culinary
luminaries like Jacques Pepin and foodie rock stars like Bobby Flay, unbelievably, it was two pigs that stole the show.
These porcine darlings (pictured right), mascots for Whistle Pig Straight Rye Whiskey from Shoreham, VT, were tucked somewhere between the live banjo music and Dom Perignon, oblivious to all the fawning and snapshots, that is, until they started smelling all the food that was passing under their sleepy little snouts. Then, they really put on a show, prancing and preening for all to see. Bet they slept well that night, dreaming of rutting and rooting their way through The Big Apple. I don’t know, but I’m guessing, this was a New York first for these pigs that will not soon be forgotten.
Congratulations to all of the nominees and honorees for this year’s James Beard Award! You earned it. I think there should be a best-bacon honorable mention in honor of these pigs. They, along with so many other things, made this first a memorable and enjoyable one. All foodies should put the James Beard Awards on their must do-list. Speaking of must- do’s here are two that I discovered while I was in the city:
1900 Broadway (@64th Street)
New York, New York 10023
The latest addition to multi-decorated chef, multi-awarded James Beard winner, Daniel Boulud’s international restaurant empire, this charming, delicious emporium glitters with Gallic goodness. Serving breakfasts of exquisite patisseries, lunches of gourmet sandwiches/soups, artisinal cheeses, and housemade charcuterie, the “epicerie” is designed to become an oyster and wine hot spot for the late night crowd as well. You’ll never see a more beautiful eclair this side of Paris or eat a fresher, sweeter oyster, anywhere. Chef Boulud and his staff hosted a lively after-party here (just across the street from The Lincoln Center) that was full to the brim with more culinary greats and authors, including Ruth Reichl and Jacques Pepin.
Best Least Expected Find:
881 Eighth Avenue (between 52 & 53 Streets)
New York, New York 10019
Smack dab in the middle of the theater district, my friend Laurie and I discovered this while we were looking for a suitable spot for a night cap. Quiet at first, the place slowly morphed into a huge and lively neighborhood destination, complete with live music and television celebrity regulars. The best part of all, though, is the familial-driven hospitality and the fabulous Northern Italian food served here. Mozzarella and pasta are made in house. Cielo hosts a popular pre-matinee theater luncheon on Wednesday afternoons.
Last Friday, I was working feverishly and happily on Food Lovers’ Guide to Charleston and Savannah, when I got an email from my Tart Love editor, Madge. Having submitted the manuscript months ago, I was surprised to learn that she needed two more original recipes and some chapter fronts, and pronto, as the book is getting set for final edits, design and printing.
About one month ago, I had a dream. In it, I was walking through my favorite place to be on a Saturday morning, The Charleston Farmers Market. I could smell the bread, the jasmine, the sizzling doughnuts, and practically taste my first strawberry of the season. Then, I awoke to the nightmarish reality that I had longer yet to wait. It’s been a naughty and long winter in Charleston, so the arrival of this year’s market seemed an agonizingly long time coming.
The nightmare ended this morning with the opening of the very first market of the season. I got there just as the open air market “doors” opened, eager to indulge in what is always a veritable celebration of spring, a true rite of passage to mark the beginning of the Lowcountry’s long and verdant growing season.
I scrambled to Thackery Farms booth first, just to spy their always luscious displays of organic goodness (pictured) before it got dissassembled. Baby fennel, tiny, crisp radishes, baby cabbages, poppies, and sweet onions, all shimmered with beauty and freshness.
Old friends and familiar faces bounced cheerfully through the eager crowd. I found long tapered spears of asparagus, milky clusters of Mepkin Abbey’s velvetty oyster mushrooms, and yes, that very first taste of the very first local strawberry. The sweet juiciness that trickled down my chin, reminded me of the joyful continuity and generosity of farmers and of Mother Nature. They do so much to salve the wounds of a world, of late, so full of chaos. Thank goodness for them.
The Charleston Farmers’ Market – Marion Square, downtown Charleston.
Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m., April – December
As far back as I can remember, Woodland’s Inn has had an extreme knack for finding stellar kitchen talent. From Ken Vedrinski to Scott Crawford to Nate Whiting, Woodland’s always has put an elegant and delicious spin on classical cooking. The inn’s latest executive chef, Andrew Chadwick, is no exception.