Fresh on the heels of my piece about how I don't like “top ten” lists and the entirely justified implication that I disapprove generally of ranking restaurants comes the announcement of the James Beard Foundation nominees for 2014. New Orleans and south Louisiana are well-represented. Pêche got a nod for best new restaurant; Arnaud's French 75 and Cure were recognized for Outstanding Bar Program; Donald Link is on the list of outstanding* chefs; JoAnn Clevenger is among the nominees for Outstanding Restaurateur; Brigtsen's is mentioned for Outstanding Service; the Grill Room at the Windsor Court is one of the most Outstanding Wine Programs; in the category “Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional,” Ann Tuennerman made the grade for Tales of the Cocktail; in the category “Best Chef: South” Justin Devillier, Ryan Prewitt, Alon Shaya, Michael Stoltzfus, Isaac Toups and Sue Zemanick were all named.
I wish them all luck except that Link kid. He's just piling on at this point with the Beard awards. Dude has a cabinet full of them. I've heard Link made a waffle iron out of two Beard awards and steel from the knives of chefs he vanquished in some sort of hyper-violent "Chopped" competition or something.
I actually have “stories” about pretty much all of the nominees, and not all of those stories are interesting. I met Sue Zemanick and she was very nice. Justin Devillier's daughter is named Ruby, which is my stepdaughter's name. Mike Stoltzfus is a friend and Isaac Toups has now impressed the hell out of me at three restaurants, I believe (Mid-City, Brah.) Prewitt is, like Toups, less well-known than he should be. I suspect Pêche will change that.
Then there's JoAnn Clevenger. She's a great lady, and one of the best restaurateurs in a town full of great restaurateurs. The thing that struck me about JoAnn the first time I dined at the Upperline was that she recommended other local restaurants to her customers. I listened in as she took phone calls during an early dinner service. They were booked, and she wasn't rude but she also wasn't obsequious – she just told callers they had no room and suggested alternatives. She's always had a great eye for art and for chefs, too.
Ann Tuennerman is also nominated, and if she doesn't win this year it won't be long. She's hugely important in the world of cocktails and spirits, and a sweetheart to boot.
I would very much like to tell you that one of the nominees is unworthy; that you could find better food at Burger King and better service at a self-serve coffee stand. I'd like to write that one of the chefs nominated routinely serves frozen chicken fingers dipped in white truffle oil. I wish I could say I wouldn't eat at one of the nominated restaurants with Ian McNulty's mouth, but I can't. I mean, I could say that and more, but I won't because it's not true and it would likely get me in trouble with my editors.
So I'll close by wishing all of the nominees good luck, and continued success regardless of what the folks in New York decide.
*CORRECTION: An earlier draft of this article incorrectly named the Outstanding Chef category. We apologize for this error.