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2007_05_beard3.jpgMaybe it was just the red carpet, but most of the people we spoke to seemed particularly excited about the new digs for the James Beard Foundation Awards, black-tie affair held last night at Avery Fisher Hall to honor some of the country's best chefs, restaurateurs, and culinary professionals. Susan Ungaro, the President of JBF, noted that originally, James Beard had moved to New York to become an opera singer, but had to earn a living until he hit the big time. He started a catering company and the rest, as they say, is history, but she noted that he would have been pretty excited to be up on that stage.

Momofuku's David Chang took home the first big award of the evening with the Rising Star Chef of the year, presented by Martha Stewart. We spoke to David briefly before the event started, and he seemed understandably quite nervous, but after the ceremony was over, he was definitely thrilled and excited for his team. In New York news, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon was named Best New Restaurant, while David Waltuck of Chanterelle was named the best chef in the NYC region (the only city to have its own region). Pastry Chef Michael Laskonis of Le Bernardin took home the Outstanding Pastry Chef award. The full list of winners can be found here.

The press room itself was quite a scene -- awardees were whisked back there after their respective wins, for champagne and pictures. Ed Levine was frantically liveblogging the whole thing, and the room was packed to the gills at several points. As he was presenting the Best New Restaurant award, restaurateur Danny Meyer was apparently given the wrong envelope and had to wait for the winner to appear on his teleprompter -- he joked that he was just messing with all the bloggers.

After the awards everyone spilled out into the gala reception to taste the evening's bounty. Despite his love for all things pork, David Chang served a vegetarian dish -- poached green asparagus with miso butter and rice crackers. We chatted with Christopher Lee of Gilt about the estimated cost of the hunk of Waygu beef displayed on his table (it was quite possibly the most valuable thing in the room), tasted Andrew Carmellini's famed Duck Meatballs from A Voce, and even got a glimpse of what dining at Alinea in Chicago might be like -- Grant Achatz and his team were serving morel financiers with smoked paprika and jamon iberico, perched atop a long skewer, which you lowered into your mouth by pushing gently on the base holding the skewer aloft. The gala was perfect for people-watching, with all the big shots of the culinary world mixing and mingling, and as the gala slowly wound down, it was on to the legendary after-parties. Kobe Club, Hawaiian Tropic Zone, THOR, the Parker Meridien, and Todd English's Olives were all overheard to be party spots, but we're sure there were plenty more. And, for the record, we wouldn't recommend eating out tonight -- there are probably some major hangovers out there.

Photos by Matthew Krautheim