An aside that's to my mind anything but: Barry's piece this morning is one part of the why-have-we-waited-so-long strikeback at the myth that sustainability-minded foodies are elitist. We began a strong-minded debate based on the (I think) misguided and misjudged piece in the magazine by B.R. Myers, with Nicolette Hahn Niman's excellent defense of social responsibility in eating choices, and the choices she and her husband, Bill, make in raising animals for meat. That was followed by James McWilliam's own skepticism that raising animals to eat them can ever be defended, a position that puts him at loggerheads with Niman though both share many core values—but that's the value of debate!
And valiant blows in the fight against the "elitist" slur we've taken for too long were struck recently at The Atlantic Food Summit, in Alice Waters's tweets and her own stirring, beautifully spoken speech suggesting universal free school lunch and, later that week by Eric Schlosser's op-ed in The Washington Post, "Why Being a Foodie Isn't 'Elitist'"—a piece that you need to read right now if you missed it, because it sets the terms of the food and social justice debate for the next few years.
The Beard Awards came to their glittery conclusion last night at the gala at Lincoln Center, where the literal climax and for me most important moment was the award to José Andrés as Outstanding Chef. Andrés has been growing in stature and creativity, applying his exuberant passion to matters everyone at the Food Summit—where he was the most passionate speaker in a group of people who know and speak their own minds—cared about. At Friday's awards, the sense that this would be Andrés's year began to build when a "60 Minutes" piece on Andrés, produced by Bill Owens and Kara Vaccaro, won for best television segment.
In accepting his award, Andrés echoed points he made here in a piece last September on the importance of public funding to feed children well, Waters's subject at the Summit. In his ecstatic, and long, acceptance speech he said, "Food is the most powerful thing we have in our hands. Not only chefs, but everyone in the food community. The right use of food can end hunger." He said something very close to a group assembled for The Atlantic last week at a pre-White House Correspondent's Dinner evening, and with similar fire. And I'm very taken with Andrés's food—not just the fantastically luxurious jamon Ibérico and caviar he served at the gala last night but also more I'm writing about for our next issue of our magazine.
Food, of course, is what many of the awards-goers pay the steep, steep ticket price ($600) to eat, and aside from the jamon and caviar there was plenty of it. As there was at the after-parties, three of them given by supreme professionals: Thomas Keller and Laura Cunningham, who won this year's Outstanding Service award for Per Se, where they welcomed friends; and Danny Meyer at Eleven Madison Park, which won for both Anegla Pinkerton's work as Outstanding Pastry Chef and as Outstanding Restaurant. Meyers's journey was chronicled in Roger Sherman's absorbing documentary on the creation and then re-creation of Eleven Madison Park, The Restaurateur, which I wrote about after seeing a screening last winter and which is now available on DVD. The near-halving of the number of seats in the restaurant and doubling of the kitchen staff brought the results Meyer cared about: four stars in The New York Times and now the grand Beard prize. And Daniel Humm, the chef Meyer brought in for the restaurant's re-invention, showed his own reaction by inviting everybody at the awards ceremony to the party—and, when they listened and turned up, danced on the bar to very, very loud yells in a pretty incredible scene of one of the most reverent and beautiful rooms in New York turned into a light-flashing, music-pounding disco.