JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION HONORS CULINARY MERIT

Rick Bayless, co-owner of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and Zinfandel in Chicago, took home the top award -- Chef of the Year -- at the food world's ''Oscars'' show Monday.

Each year since 1990, the James Beard Awards have recognized leaders like Bayless for their excellence and achievement in America's culinary-arts field.

The late James Beard advocated American cookery in his popular teaching and prolific writing (19 cookbooks).

Beard's cooking school was housed in a Greenwich Village brownstone now home to the James Beard Foundation, but the awards were given at the Marriott Marquis in New York.

Other awards include:

Best American Chef/ California: Gary Danko, the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco

Best American Chef/ MidWest: Jean Joho, the LaSalle Club, Chicago

Best American Chef/ Northeast: Gordon Hamersley, Hamersley's Bistro, Boston

Best American Chef/ Southeast: Elizabeth Terry, Savannah, Ga.

Best American Chef/ Mid-Atlantic: Robert Kinkead, Kinkead's, Washington

Best American Chef/ New York City: Gray Kunz, Lespinasse, St. Regis Hotel

Best American Chef/ Pacific Northwest: Tamara Murphy, Campagne, Pike Place Market, Seattle

Best American Chef/ Southwest: Christopher Gross, Christopher's and the Bistro, Phoenix

Rising Star Chef of the Year: Traci Des Jardins, Rubicon, San Francisco

Pastry Chef of the Year: Francois Payard, Restaurant Daniel, New York

Cookbook of the Year:

Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, by Alice Medrich (Warner Books)

Outstanding Restaurant Award: Le Cirque, New York (Sirio Maccioni, owner; Sylvain Portay, chef)

Cookbook Hall of Fame: Greene on Greens, by Bert Greene (Workman)

Best Vegetarian Cookbook: Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, by the Moosewood Collective (Simon & Schuster/Fireside)

Best Food Photography:

Roger Verge's Vegetables in the French Style, photographed by Bernard Tauillon (Artisan)

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