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all photos: Alyssa Lesser, all hazy memories: Svetlana

Last week as I told everyone we were heading over to cover the miracle of the evening that is The James Beard Awards, the responses seemed to all fall in the general category of: “Shut up”, “I hate you”, “I can’t really think of ANYTHING cooler to go to than the James Beard Awards. Well, maybe the VMAs circa 1995, but that’s pretty much it” and “Shut up”.

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So-what IS this magical night that would make grown men and women react so intensely to? For the uninitiated, the James Beard Awards, now in their 25th year (And with a Duff Goldman cake you just saw above to show for it) is essentially The Oscars of Food. All the best chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, beverage directors and foodie celebrities step out of their uniforms and into their Lincoln Center best, and celebrate each other followed by celebrating what they do with a gala (and then some amazing afterparties) featuring food from four star kitchens and past winners.

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Alton Brown hosts and everyone from Jose Andres to Daniel Boulud to Jacques Pepin to David Chang to Gail Simmons to some lucky super foodie fans that shelled out $475 for the limited tickets show up and basically have a glorious food orgy reunion.

This year-what with the Mid-Atlantic Chef category featuring 4 DC based Chefs (Cathal Armstrong, Restaurant Eve+ Johnny Monis, Komi and Little Serow +Peter Pastan, Obelisk + Vikram Sunderam, Rasika), FIOLA being nominated for the BEST NEW RESTAURANT in THE WHOLE Country and BYT favorites like Paul Qui and Christina Tosi and Stephanie Izzard all on the list as well-we decided it was time to not just read about it BUT GO.

Here is the play by play:

  • 4:30PM. As with all awards – things start hella early. This means that you are wearing a silk dress and looking like a (hopefully high class) escort in broad daylight as the red carpet is about to happen. Establish assigned positions and then abandon assigned positions for better positions. Hey-we’re only thinking of you guys

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  • 5:00PM-Red Carpet Begins. Unlike, say, what I imagine the real Oscars red carpet to be (aka-a complete shit show) this is a comparatively classy/chill affair-in fact, most chefs opt to just use the regular door. Still-you get to have a glimpse of everyone from Andrew Zimmern to Susan Ungaro (who is THE President of The James Beard Foundation and also someone who will totally be a sweetheart as you run into them in the ladies room and you’re refreshing your lipsticks next to each other, which sets the tone for the whole evening: all these people, while in ballgowns and tuxes are actually the best kind of important people: relaxed and normal and into all the great things in life you are as well: cocktails and good food and good service and general civility. Nothing not to like)

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  • 6pm – we set up shop in the press room. No food or drinks are served anywhere BUT the press room during the ceremony (and no photos are allowed in the auditorium DURING the ceremony, aside from the final few minutes) so the press room is where everyone congregates: from Todd English (and his very formidable jawline to neck proportion which make him seem like one of the real life Avengers) to Ted Allen to Gail Simmons to all the winners as they’re ushered backstage.

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  • somewhere around 6:30pm – Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar WINS FOR RISING CHEF OF THE YEAR. The best part of this win is that Christina Tosi, on top of being the genius behind the crack bar AND the pretzel and cereal milks ALSO looks like someone you’d totally be best friends with, a  fact later confirmed as we watch her episode of MUNCHIES at the VICE afterparty which involves Dairy Queen Breakfasts, orange rind jello shots in the morning and more. Congratulations and now that there’s SIX Momofuku Milk Bars in NYC, can we talk about a DC expansion? Please?

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  • somewhere around 6:45pm OMG GAIL SIMMONS. BYT’s #1 food TV crush is everything we hope she would be: gorgeous, nice, game, and just hanging out.

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  • somewhere around 6:55-a man walks in with a WHISK BOW TIE. We hug him. Hard.

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  • somewhere around 7 – the Mid Atlantic  outstanding Chef is announced. With 4 DC chefs and one lady from Hoboken nominated, we feel the District should have this one on lockdown. As tweets and hugs are prepped, the lady from Hoboken (Maricel Presilla of Chucharamama) actually DOES win launching a 1000 debates whether Hoboken should even really count as Mid-Atlantic and HOW THIS IS A DAMN SHAME. Still-congratulations Maricel!

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  • somewhere around 7:45-NEXT in Chicago wins for best new Restaurant, meaning that Grant Achatz is officially FIOLA/Fabio Trabbochi’s James Beard nemesis since back in the day when they were both nominated for Rising Chef, Achatz walked away with that one as well.  Nevermind-there’s always next year again.

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  • somewhere around 8pm-Paul Qui wins for outstanding Chef Southwest which makes it for at least one son of the DC/MD/VA area (Qui grew up in Northern Virginia) to be a winner tonight. Hands are shaken and photos are taken.

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  • somewhere around 8:30pm – the big winners are announced (Boulevard in San Franciso wins for Outstanding Restaurant, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park is outstanding Chef of the Year)
  • somewhere around 8:35pm-time to hustle out for the gala. The food and beverage situation, as you can imagine is outstanding. From the dungeness crab reubens courtesy of Paley’s in Portland to Bulleit bourbon punches to ….well, everything, you are basically just in a food coma daze. Alyssa looks over at me while balancing a glass, a plate, a stray piece of chocolate AND her camera and says: “I don’t think I’ve been this happy in a while”. Food porn evidence:

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  • somewhere around 9:30pm – time to play the “pin the tail onto celebrity chef game”. Everyone is there: Wylie Dufresne, Jonathan Wexman, Stephanie Izzard, Duff Goldman, any and every TOP CHEF contestant ever….

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  • FASHION BREAK! somewhere along the colorful food is plenty of colorful outfits too. A selection below:

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  • somewhere around 10pm – we do a round of BYT’s DC food friends photos: Jose Andres is chilling in the VIP area, Ashok Bajaj and Vikram Sunderam of Rasika are all smiles despite the whole “Hoboken lady upset”, the Komi team is radiant, Nic from Sweetgreen is milling about, Sam Kass is looking sharp as ever and more.

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  • LATE NIGHT: The general consensus all evening is “Wherever Daniel Boulud goes afterwards-is where YOU want to go”. And what with Daniel Humm winning for Outstanding Chef (Congratulations) everyone heads over to Eleven Madison Park where….well,  what happens at the afterparties, stays at the afterparties. aside from a few of these photos.

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  • TILL NEXT YEAR-happy eating.

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