VINTAGE TOQUELAND: Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs 2010

Why The Industry’s “Most Likely to Succeed” List is Even More Historically Significant than You Might Think

[Editor's Note:  This piece was first published on April 9, 2010, on the original, 1.0 version of Toqueland. Thought I'd re-post it today for a few reasons: (1) The Jonathan Waxman interview referenced herein was the very first interview I conducted for what has become my just-announced book project(2) Food & Wine unveils its 2012 Best New Chefs class on Tuesday, with party to follow; and (3) if more than a dozen people read this during my first, halfhearted attempt to run my own site/blog, I'd be shocked (didn't realize what I was getting myself into that time). As the waiters say, "Enjoy."]

Here We Are Now: Entertain Us... Dancing Girls at the BNC Party (photo copyright by Sylvain Gaboury, FOOD & WINE Magazine)

APRIL 9, 2010; NEW YORK, NY — Food & Wine Magazine staged its 22nd annual Best New Chefs party Tuesday night at the Four Seasons restaurant in midtown Manhattan.  And I do mean staged:  Just before the recitation of the names (you can’t really call it an announcement as the news broke online earlier in the day), dancing girls decked out in hot pants, top hats, and feathered wings—getups worthy of a Bob Fosse fever dream—danced along the brink of the shallow fountain in the western dining room.  It was fabulously over the top – one of those moments that you sometimes see in movies about New York and think, “There aren’t really parties like that in New York.”  Only Tuesday night there was!

The event, as always, was one of the best food industry events of the year—almost comically packed with both top chefs and, owing to the magazine’s relationship with the show, Top Chefs (i.e., past cheftestants and winners from the Bravo TV production).

As I say, the BNC class of 2010 was announced earlier in the day Tuesday.  The inductees were:

Roy Choi, Kogi BBQ truck, Los Angeles, California
Matt Lightner, Castagna, Portland, Oregon
Clayton Miller, Trummer’s on Main, Clifton, Virginia
Missy Robbins,A Voce, New York, New York
Jonathon Sawyer, The Greenhouse Tavern, Cleveland, Ohio
Alex Seidel, Fruition, Denver, Colorado
Mike Sheerin, Blackbird, Chicago, Illinois
John Shields, Town House, Chilhowie, Virginia
Jason Stratton, Spinasse, Seattle, Washington
James Syhabout, Commis, Oakland, California

Christina Grdovic, Dana Cowin, and Gail Simmons, flanked by the BNC Class of 2010 (photo copyright by Sylvain Gaboury, FOOD & WINE Magazine)

The whole scene–peppered as it was with bloggers (many armed with digital still and video cameras) and tv stars (Sarah Jessica Parker plus food-world tv celebs such as Tom Colicchio and Kelly Choi)–got me to thinking about how much things have changed in toque-land over the past few decades, and made me want to take a moment here to reflect on Best New Chefs’ place in the relatively young history of the modern American restaurant chef as we understand that term today.  Because amidst all the glam and glitter Tuesday night, one might easily forget how very significant the awards were when they were first rolled out a little more than two decades ago.

I recently interviewed Jonathan Waxman of New York City’s Barbuto restaurant.  Jonathan started out at Chez Panisse back in the 1970s, then rose to prominence at Michael’s in Los Angeles, and then JAMS in New York City.  We were discussing the formative days of modern American restaurant food in general, and the California school in particular.  When I asked who he was following outside of his immediate circle (Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower, Wolfgang Puck) back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he floored me with his answer:  Almost nobody.

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Toqueland Contributor Percy Whatley Wins ACF Western Region Chef of the Year

A big congratulations to The Ahwahnee’s Percy Whatley, who nabbed the American Culinary Federation‘s Western Region Chef of the Year award last night in Reno, Nevada.

Percy Whatley (photo courtesy Delaware North Companies)

Whatley, who twice competed in the Bocuse d’Or USA, and is training hard for the Certified Master Chef (CMC) exam, began documenting his training for the CMC on Toqueland last month, and has been putting the finishing touches on the next installment of his journal for us. (He was also featured in my Huffington Post piece “The Real Top Chefs” about the largely unknown world of traditional culinary competitions.) We’ll ask him to share a little about this event in his next CMC post as well, if he has any energy left to spare.

Andrew