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The Beard Awards last night reinforced the sense that our national food scene is becoming more local and more intimate, rewarding locavore chefs like Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson of Boulder, CO's Frasca Food & Wine, as well as the new king of small venues, David Chang.
But what really caught my attention, outside of the long line for Maricel Presilla's tamales at the awards reception and the sight of F&W's own spirits correspondent Jim Meehan tempting lightning on the Avery Fisher Hall porch while shaking cocktails under the thunderclouds, were the elaborate faux-hawks and facial hair, those baroque fashion trends exclusive to the species “male chef.” This was one black-tie event where—at least in the hair department—the men outclassed the women. There was Johnny Iuzzini's bouffant, with a pleasing Fonzie-esque sheen to match the pastry chef's pocket chain; Michael Psilakis's soul patch looking particularly impeccable, and Grant Achatz sporting a fresh red goatee.
During the ceremony, it looked for a while like the awards committees were all a bunch of George Steinbrenners, favoring the shorn (Gavin Kaysen) and clean-shaven (Danny Meyer) just like the Yankees owner does. But then the bearded Joe Bastianich took the award for Outstanding Restaurateur, the Santa Claus impersonator Michel Richard ran away with the show with Best New Restaurant, and Achatz himself brought the crowd to its feet winning Outstanding Chef – and for one lovely moment, as the restaurant world rallied round the chef (on an amazing rebound from tongue cancer), the event itself felt like an intimate, family affair.