Chef’s Night Out: Pregaming for the James Beard Awards

Saturday may have rocked Cinco de Mayo and Derby Day, but for true culinary connoisseurs, Sunday was the night to party. The start of the evening featured a killer set by DJ ?uestlove, who is teaming up with Chicago-based chef Graham Elliot to pair food and music together. The two met at Lollapalooza in 2010 when Elliot acted as the culinary ambassador for the festival and something clicked, creating a match made in pop culture heaven. Last night they showed their partnership under a large yellow moon at the penthouse suite of the Mondrian Hotel in Soho. While ?uestlove served the beats, black-clad waiters passed out delicate truffle deviled eggs, fried mac ‘n’cheese on a stick, and hefty fried “Love’s Drumsticks”—all a sneak peek into what the team plans on doing in the future.

To drink they offered cocktails including the NY State of Mind, a mixture of gin, sparkling wine, and Ty Ku sake, and the Brazilian ‘”Roots,” which had Lebion Cachaca, cane sugar, and lime. Sipping drinks and taking in the killer view were Park and Recreations actor Aziz Ansari, Onion writer Bartunde Thurston, and Top Chef contestant Carla Hall. Like Hall, Elliot was also on Top Chef as well as Iron Chef America, and he has been nominated for three James Beard Awards.

Speaking of the James Beard Awards, last night also kicked off the 2012 JBA with Chef’s Night Out, an annual event celebrating the nominees. Campari helped sponsor the event at the Chelsea Market, and there were top bartenders like Dushan Zaric from Employees Only mixing up the Bouleuardier, a stiff drink akin to a bourbon negroni, and Damon Dyer from Rum House doing a fresh Campari with Fever Tree soda water. Jane Danger who runs the darling Jane’s Sweet Buns created devious shortbread with the sprit, which was also topped with rhubarb bitters cream. In the main hall, revelers indulged in melt-in-your-mouth Iberico ham served by Forever Cheese, whipped lardo from Dickson’s Farmstead Meats, tangy mac ‘n’ cheese by The Green Table, and dense chocolate brownies made by Fat Witch Bakery.

Some of the chefs, restaurateurs, and TV personalities enjoying the night included: Curtis Stone of the new Bravo show Around the World in 80 Plates, Ted Allen from Chopped, world renowned chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller, Tony and Marisa May of SD26, pastry chef Pichet Ong, John Besh, chef Madison Cowan from BBC’s No Kitchen Required, Daniel Holzman from The Meatball Shop, Salumeria Rosi’s Cesare Casella, and southern chef Hugh Acheson—plus a whole lot more. Tonight many of these people will be waiting for hours at the James Beard Awards and this was the calm before the storm of tonight’s parties and prestigious honors.

Tix for NYC Restaurant Week on Sale January 12

If there’s one disadvantage to working in the travel industry, it’s constantly having to leave New York City. I miss my friends, my neighborhood, and, most of all, the food. Seriously, I’ve been to places where the food has sucked (Philippines), lacked variety (Greenland), and was neither here nor there (Fort Lauderdale). New Yorkers are super-privileged to be in a city where the culinary scene is diverse and, more often than not, really damn good. Not only can you get a hearty, amazing meal at a cheap ethnic joint, you can splurge on high-end dinners knowing you won’t be disappointed. Best of all, with NYC Restaurant Week next month, you can get that “splurgy” experience at that “ethnic joint” price. Or something like that.

From January 24 to February 6, NYC & CO is partnering with more than 300 restaurants for two weeks of ridiculously priced meals at highly touted restaurants. Three-course, prix-fixe lunches will be $24.07; three-course prix-fixe dinners at a measly $35.

Participating restaurants include some of my favorites, like the soon-to-be-closed Faustina at the Cooper Square hotel, Le Cirque, SD26, and Tribeca Grill.