Mar 23 2010

The James Beard Foundation Awards Nominations

March 23rd, 2010 at 7:59 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The James Beard Foundation Award nominees for 2010 have just been announced and feature a number of chefs and restaurants that we have had the good fortune to enjoy in the last couple of years.

Named after one of the best known figures in American culinary history, James Beard, the James Beard Foundation Awards have been described as the Oscars of the food world, focusing exclusively on U.S.-based entrants. Judging for the awards is performed by experts in the fields they are judging – effectively by the peers of those who are under consideration for an award. The judges may not enter in the awards category they are judging, in order to prevent any sort of conflicts of interest.

Among the categories being judged are Outstanding Restauranteur, Outstanding Chef, Outstanding Restaurant, Rising Star Chef of the Year, Best New Restaurant, Outstanding Pastry Chef, Outstanding Wine Service, Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional, Outstanding Service, Best Chef by region in the U.S., and a number of categories covering food journalism in various media (including cookbooks).

The winners will be announce on May 2nd and 3rd in New York.

Of the nominees, we are personally familiar with (and appreciative of) the work of:

– José Andrés, Minibar, Washington – Nominated for Outstanding Chef
– Tom Colicchio, Craft, New York – Also nominated for Outstanding Chef
– Amanda Cook, Cityzen at Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C. – Nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef
– Alinea, Chicago – Nominated for Outstanding Service
– Wylie Dufresne, wd-50 – Nominated for Best Chef: New York
– Sean Brock, McCrady’s, Charleston, South Carolina – Nominated for Best Chef: South Carolina
– Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta, Georgia – Nominated for Best Chef: South Carolina

Congratulations to all those who were nominated, and we wish all the nominees the best of luck in the upcoming judging, and hope to enjoy a meal created by or at some of the other nominees in the coming year. Certainly the ones we’ve listed above have created a fantastic foodie experience, which speaks well of those we have yet to try.


Mar 23 2010

Dining at The Hump – No Longer

March 23rd, 2010 at 7:32 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

When we read last week that The Hump, a Japanese restaurant located at the Santa Monica, California airport had been nailed selling whale meat (from a sei whale) we were shocked and saddened.

The Hump at Santa Monica's airport

The Hump at Santa Monica's airport

We have just returned from three weeks in Antarctic waters, and were privileged to actually see the rare sei whales in the open ocean. To imagine that these graceful, beautiful, and most importantly, endangered animals were being surreptitiously served to some diners at The Hump is quite distressing.

The Hump is now closed, permanently. And that too is distressing – much in the same way that a popular and talented performer becoming a train-wreck through stupidity and bizarre behavior is distressing. I say that because I happened to have had one of the best Japanese meals of my life at The Hump just over two years ago (and no, no whale meat was involved).

Small crab treats at The Hump

Small crab treats at The Hump

We were in Santa Monica after having just returned from a trip to Fiji, and I was taking out my brother David and his family for David’s birthday dinner. He suggest The Hump. At first we thought he was kidding – after all, “The Hump” does not evoke visions of great food – to us it sounded more like a strip joint, and the fact it was at the airport was not encouraging either.

The lobster course at The Hump

The lobster course at The Hump

But we humored David, and when we got there we found it to be a small, quirky, Japanese-themed restaurant. Those of us who were more committed to culinary experiences opted for the omakase, a special tasting menu available at most Japanese restaurants where the chef determines each course of what you eat, either on the fly or by having prepared a special menu at an earlier time. “Omakase” is apparently a Japanese phrase that means “it’s up to you”.

Our lobster course - close up

Our lobster course - close up

The sushi course at The Hump

The sushi course at The Hump

David and I had an extra course or two while Linda and Krystyana stopped a bit earlier. And each course was excellent. There was a lobster course, a Wagyu beef course, a sushi course, a crab course, a mollusk course, and several more I cannot remember a couple of years later.

The grand finale - eight special ice creams (including black truffle ice cream)

The grand finale - eight special ice creams (including black truffle ice cream)

Most memorable to my kids was the grand finale however, which consisted of eight different custom ice creams, including a black truffle ice cream which no one other than I liked. And I liked it very much.

I should add that the service we received was also excellent. And looking around us, we could tell this restaurant was a hidden treasure. At the table next to us was an actress we recognized from the TV show Frasier, for example. For a restaurant with a weird name, in an unusual location, this was quite the place to dine.

With such pleasant memories, I find this reckless behavior by the restaurant stunning. Why did they feel the need to cross the line into meat from an endangered species when they already were so good at what they did? I just don’t get it. Just like I also don’t get the train-wreck stupidity and hubris of famous and talented people like Tiger or Britney. But it happens altogether too often, sadly.

I hope the sei whale that was served at The Hump is in some type of whale heaven now. Rest in peace.