At the 2018 James Beard Awards, the spotlight was on Southern chefs
Southern chefs, restaurateurs, and beverage professionals cleaned up last night at the James Beard Foundation’s annual awards ceremony in Chicago—often dubbed the “Oscars of the food world.”
Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston, South Carolina, was named Best Chef: Southeast, becoming the first African American chef to win in the category (and only the second pitmaster ever to take home a Beard). As someone who grew up around his family’s barbecue business in Hemingway, South Carolina—he smoked his first hog at age 11—Scott has spent a lifetime honing his craft of whole-hog barbecue.
This year’s Best Chef: South is New Orleans’ Nina Compton. A native of St. Lucia, she imparts a taste of home in everything she cooks, underscoring the relationship between the Caribbean and the Crescent City in her two restaurants, Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro. Want a taste? Get started on her black cake, a boozy holiday staple on the island that uses dried fruit soaked in rum or wine for up to a year.
And Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic went to Jeremiah Langhorne of Washington, DC’s the Dabney. A champion of hyper-local Mid-Atlantic cuisine, Langhorne figures prominently in the rise of the city’s dining scene.
The Best New Restaurant is Seattle’s JuneBaby, where Eduardo Jordan celebrates black Southern food. The St. Petersburg, Florida-born chef is also taking a Beard for Best Chef: Northwest back to the West Coast.
After nine years as a nominee, Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, was named Outstanding Restaurant, an award that recognizes longstanding bearers of excellence. A champion of the bounty of Southern soil, Stitt made a name for himself when, in 1982, he decided to apply his classic French training to the foods of his Northern Alabama upbringing. In doing so, he became one of the first chefs to show the country that Southern cooking is worth paying attention to. Highlands may be a tough table after last night’s announcement, but you can get a taste of his cooking at home with this succotash.
And Stitt isn’t the only one bringing top honors home to Birmingham: Dolester Miles, his pastry chef of thirty-plus years, was awarded Outstanding Pastry Chef. Miles, who learned to cook at the elbow of her mother and aunt in rural Alabama, oversees desserts for Stitt’s five-restaurant fleet, which also includes Chez Fonfon and Bottega. She shares the recipe for the latter’s coconut cake in our May issue.
Southerners have always loved a good drink, and last night’s accolades confirmed that we still do it best. Charleston, South Carolina’s FIG earned Outstanding Wine Program, while Cure in New Orleans nabbed the title of Outstanding Bar Program.
This year’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America—a cadre of accomplished food and beverage professionals—included New Orleans’ Lally Brennan and Ti Adelaide Martin, cousins and co-proprietors of Commander’s Palace and other NOLA restaurants.
And the awards don’t stop there for the Crescent City: Dong Phuong Bakery, one of the most storied restaurants in the city’s Vietnamese culinary community, is one of five 2018 recipients of America’s Classic Award. The recognition, which honors time-honored establishments that reflect the character of their communities, was announced earlier this year.
The foundation also recognized Washington, DC, restaurateur José Andrés as Humanitarian of the Year. The Barcelona-born chef, credited with popularizing tapas in the States, has long been an anti-hunger advocate. Through his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, Andrés has most recently devoted his efforts to providing meals in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and to first responders and those impacted by Southern California wildfires in late 2017. Accepting the award on behalf of other humanitarians, Andrés emphasized that “we can improve the world one plate at a time.”