If you love good food, cooking at home, and dining out in wonderful restaurants, you’re probably familiar with the name of James Beard, America’s very first celebrity chef. In cooking circles, the annual James Beard Foundation Awards are considered the Academy Awards of food and wine, with top honors going to chefs and other food industry experts. A culinary event is now bringing the best chefs in the nation to 10 U.S. cities over five weekends from September 20 through October 19, 2013.
Taste America Roadshow
The James Beard Foundation’s Taste America is a traveling food festival of all-star chefs to showcase the nation’s unique range of local cuisines. With stops in Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., events, demonstrations, and tastings are designed to connect Americans to the bounty of delicious and healthy food this nation produces from sea to shining sea.
Dean of American Cuisine
Ever since James Beard introduced the first food show on television in the 1950s, his name has been synonymous with the excellence of American cuisine through his recipes, books, and cooking schools. Fellow chefs have seen that the Beard legacy of educating Americans about good food lives on through a Manhattan-based foundation named for the so-called dean of American cuisine.
Meet Chef Wylie Dufresne
Judge of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters”, chef Wylie Dufresne is the winner of James Beard Foundation 2013 Best Chef in New York City Award. Referring to his two lower Manhattan restaurants, wd-50 and Alder, Dufresne told me, “We don’t have a a signature dish, because we’re always learning, having fun, and moving forward with ever-changing menus.” Well-known for creativity and innovation in the kitchen, Dufresne added, “Having said that, Alder’s pigs in a blanket and pub cheese are certainly popular. And we do have an amalgam of greatest hits like eggs benedict and shrimp noodles.”
Not So Fast
I asked Dufresne to offer some comments to those with a passion for getting into the restaurant business. Joking that “it’s not to late to change your mind,” he added a serious note: “It is tough work with long hours and a long-term commitment.” Cautioning against overblown expectations, he said, “It’s a long, slow burn, more tortoise than the hare, so think of it as a labor of love and not as a shortcut in any way.”
Don’t Spoil the Broth
Headed to San Francisco to lead an all-star chef event featuring 17 of the nation’s finest, I asked Dufresne for advice to those who may find themselves challenged by having too many cooks in the kitchen at home. Dufresne likened the kitchen team to a ball team: “When it’s your turn to be up at bat, fine. Leave your ego aside, take direction, coexist, and have fun. Sometimes, just stay out of the way to respect the other person, chopping veggies or heading for the dishes to wash up after.” It may be a surprise to readers that one of America’s top chefs doesn’t “cook a whole lot at home,” indicating that his wife is an excellent cook and that he “heads for the man grill and the dish pit.”
Spotlight on the Flavors of America
Everyone’s heard of New England clam chowder, Chicago pizza, and San Francisco sourdough bread. Join the Taste America Local Dish Challenge, and share your pick for the best local flavor from your own American locale in the comments below.