Oregon at the Beards

Oregon chef has his own Big Night at New York gala from the Portland Oregonian FOODday section today, May 15, 2007   Park Kitchen‘s Scott Dolich didn’t win a Beard award, but that didn’t stop his revelry -Tuesday, May 15, 2007CHRISTIAN DeBENEDETTINEW YORK CITY — For Scott Dolich, chef of Portland’s Park Kitchen, the night really began with a camera flash. Not from the paparazzi lining the velvet ropes (those would come moments later) but from his own, as the nominee for the James Beard Foundation award for best chef in the Northwest snapped a shot of his 5-year-old daughter, Maddie, on her very first red carpet walk.”Actually, the night began with me getting a bit carsick as I tried to tie my own bow tie using directions I printed off the Internet,” Dolich later joked.Tricky formalwear notwithstanding, there was much to be excited about. For one, this year’s event commemorated the 20th anniversary of the foundation, named for Beard, an Oregon native often called the “Father of Gastronomy.” It was also the 17th annual incarnation of the awards, considered nothing less than the Oscars of the food world. This year, the ceremony was moved from the Marriott Marquis to Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, which, lined with white marble and soaring windows, exudes midcentury elegance.There, Dolich arrived with his parents and daughter at a scene more akin to a Hollywood blockbuster premiere than a foodie gathering. The sold-out gala was thronged with 1,600 of the world’s top chefs, including Thomas Keller and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, as well as food journalists and assorted celebrities, such as Martha Stewart and Salman Rushdie.For Dolich, whose parents are Brooklynites by birth, it was his first James Beard Awards and first red carpet, too, but he moved amid the fuss with the calmness of a guy who has been to the big dance before. “This is pretty over the top,” he said, strolling through the crowd after the ceremony, a cocktail in hand, “something that we never ever see in Portland. It’s the first time I’ve actually worn a tux to a food event.”The awards ceremony itself, simultaneously glam and goofy (music cues included “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “American Pie”), was almost a distraction, as guests were chomping at the bit to dig into all the food and drink laid in for the night. About midceremony, Bobby Flay announced Seattle’s John Sundstrom (of Lark and Licorous) as the winner in the Best New Chef: Northwest category (a complete list of winners is at www.jamesbeard.org). Dolich was unfazed, gracious in defeat. Surveying the scene a short while later in the lobby, he seemed a man content.”The real consolation prize was explaining it all to my daughter, because she kept on saying, ‘Did you win? Did you win?’ I explained to her that, no, I didn’t win, but it’s good to be nominated, and fun anyway,” he said.Throughout the room, he greeted a stream of well-wishers. “Lots of my heroes are here, Jacques Pepin to David Chang, all these people that I look up to and respect,” Dolich said. Revelers circulated through tables laden with finger-food-size offerings of Kobe beef, foie gras and morels as a jazz combo jammed away. Dolich made a beeline to sample Chang’s poached green asparagus with miso butter and rice crackers. Andrew Carmellini of New York’s A Voce (a nominee for best new restaurant) was nearby, serving up warm duck meatballs.If rivalries and reputations had been on the line a few moments before, no such tension showed. “I was talking to John (Sundstrom) before the event,” Dolich said, “and he was telling me how good his lunch was at Park Kitchen. At the same time, I was telling him that I hope he wins. To be honest, it would have been kooky if he didn’t win. . . . He deserved it.”As the crowd thinned out, the diehards clustered in a corner. Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine, came up to embrace Dolich, and suddenly another luminary was shaking his hand: Daniel Boulud, who announced he would soon be holding court at a trendy midtown restaurant.Dolich’s parents and sleepy daughter had headed home early, and it was time to blow off some (more) steam. First stop, Todd English‘s party at Olives, in Union Square. As Dolich arrived, David Chang and company had parked a party bus (complete with fog machine and disco light) out in front and a bevy of young women wobbled from its interior, laughing hysterically. Inside Olives, the scene was rather less serene. “Let’s get out of here,” said Dolich, and he headed down the block to join up with Sundstrom’s low-key entourage at the quiet, dark Bar Jamón. There the two chefs huddled over tapas, chatting and clinking toasts with sparkling rose. No one made speeches; plenty had been endured before. Eventually the decision was made to head downtown for more food. The all-Northwest group was in the mood for something James Beard would have enjoyed as much as, if not more than, any black-tie ball: a ramshackle taco stand on a quiet street downtown.

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