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James Beard award nominees

James Beard has announced their annual award nominees. It’s no Golden Clog, but has a few bits worth noting.

Two of my favorite food writers, Brett Anderson of Times-Picayune and Robb Walsh of Houston Press, got nods for Newspaper Feature About Restaurants and/or About Chefs. Walsh has been covering Houston for years and has done some really great stories that capture the essence of the city, Taco Truck Gourmet, history of Tex-Mex and the most excellent flame war with John Mariani over processed cheese being my all time favorites.

I only recently came across Brett Anderson and found that he has a similar grasp of New Orleans food, covering the resurgence of the post-Katrina restaurant scene extensively. It’s a bit disappointing that blogs don’t make the list for JBF. I have read great many newspaper dining blogs in the last couple of years and we are lucky to have one of the best with Cook’s Tour, which is somehow relevant beyond Houston city limits and yet local at the same time.

Who else is left out? Daniel Patterson of Coi, who has written some of the best food stories in the recent years. Patterson is a working chef and has a dimension that food writers can’t attain, looking from outside in by definition. One of the best articles chronicles the decades of suffocating impact that Chez Panisse has had on Southern California, which captured the evolution and eventual stagnation of dining in San Francisco. I don’t know enough about San Francisco to agree or disagree, but judging by the number of people upset by his take, seems there is some truth to his proclamation that the emperor has no clothes.

Few notes about chef nominations. Tom Douglas for Best Restaurateur? Don’t buy it. Fearing’s probably belongs in the Best New Restaurant category. I recently completed a Southwestern tour of Fearing, Pyles and Del Grande restaurants and Fearing clearly has the most left in the tank. Although I haven’t had much exposure to the Outstanding Chef nominees, but Grant Achatz should take that category without much trouble. The guy has an unreal amount of talent and serves up a mind-blowing experience better than anyone on the molecular block today.

Regional awards are a mixed bag, as usual. I still think it’s retarded that New York has it’s own category, but I suppose you need to pack the ego’s in somewhere. After visiting both Manresa and Quince recently, I am now a huge David Kinch fan and have little more than tacit approval for Michael Tusk. If Kinch doesn’t take the Best Chef Pacific category, James Beard might as well turn awards over to the foreign press.

No one from Houston is nominated this year. I am not thrilled about it, but I have to agree. There is a ton of talent here, doing some really exciting things, but no one quite takes it up to the level of Sharon Hage and Andrew Weissman. If I had to choose I’d probably go with York Street. Le Reve serves a fantastic meal, but it’s York Street I keep on thinking about going back to over and over again.

And finally, Irma’s? I don’t get the fascination with this place. The food is up and down, the prices are usually up and it just doesn’t feel like an affable hole in the wall any more, but some exclusive politico club where the story sounds better than it tastes. I’ll pass.

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