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Chicago chef wins top award despite losing sense of taste

Chef Grant Achatz poses in this undated handout photograph, released to the media yesterday.

Chef Grant Achatz poses in this undated handout photograph, released to the media yesterday.

Nothing in the kitchen is sweeter than irony. That was the lesson from this year's James Beard Foundation Awards, the "Oscars" of America's culinary scene.
Grant Achatz, whose battle with tongue cancer left him unable to taste the food he was serving at Chicago's Alinea, received America's top chef award at the Manhattan ceremony. The 34-year-old's sense of taste is slowly recovering.
Alinea charges US$225 for an avant-garde extravaganza that can encompass 28 courses over five or six hours. Call up to three months in advance for reservations.
The official theme of the evening at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall was "Artisanal America." Whatever that means. The unofficial theme was "Sex and the City." The awards were co-hosted by Kim Cattrall, who played the man-eating Samantha on the television series that was famous for shining an international spotlight on New York restaurants like Pastis and Brasserie 8 1/2. Her role reflects the foundation's efforts to put chefs on the same stage, quite literally, as celebrities.
David Chang, who doesn't hold a single Michelin star and who likes to play AC/DC at high volumes for his sometimes astonished guests, received the best New York City chef award. He beat out a cast of all Michelin-starred rivals, including Terrance Brennan of the two-starred Picholine. Chang is just 30 years old.
His Momofuku Noodle and Ssam Bar are casual late-night venues famous for making young East Villagers endure long waits for vegetables, offal and bacon. Many of the Asian-American dishes are under US$20. Walk-ins only.
The pricier Momofuku Ko is reservations only; it's the city's toughest restaurant to get into.
More than 400 people voted for the 2008 awards, including 250 regional judges.
The James Beard Foundation is named after the food writer and cookbook author who died in 1985. The organization was rocked three years ago, when former president Leonard Pickell Jr. pleaded guilty to stealing more than US$50,000 from the charity.


Updated : 2021-05-09 14:10 GMT+08:00